Suburban sanctuaries: the designer gardens where magic grows
Two of SA’s most talented landscapers share their favourite outdoor spaces
Landscaping is arguably as essential to the design of a property as the building or its interior – and when all three speak to one another, magic happens. We spoke to two of SA’s top landscape designers to get a sense of their work.
MARY MAUREL of Mary Maurel Gardens
Tell us about your approach to garden design My training is in architecture, so I take my clues from the building, as well as the client’s desires. The connections between indoor and outdoor spaces are very important to me and the structure which underpins the design is crucial. I like to draw on the references of the site, such that the garden feels right in its setting.
A few late summer bloomers you love? Japanese anemones and sedum spectacle “Autumn Joy”.
Your go-to plants for impact? For accent colour I love bougainvillea. For fullness it’s gaura. For structure, agaves and clipped spheres. For texture and movement, I love grasses. Pelargoniums for leaf form and Murraya exotica for fragrance.
A recent garden you’ve worked on? A small garden in a relatively small estate in Cape Town where the garden design, thankfully, hadn’t yet been implemented. The design was very suburban and inward looking. The house faces onto a wetland, with neighbours close to its sides, so the challenge was to screen the neighbours, while making the garden feel like an extension of the wetland.
Have you noticed any changes in what people want from a garden these days? There’s definitely a trend towards downscaling and small-garden owners want their gardens to work even harder than before. These gardens are perceived as an outdoor room, while also fulfilling the desire for a kitchen garden, an exploratory children’s world and a private sanctuary. Every inch of space is utilised and the detailing needs to be sharp, as it can otherwise be unforgiving. I’m busy with quite a few small gardens currently.
Top local open gardens to visit? The Dylan Lewis sculpture garden [in Stellenbosch]. The success of this garden, for me, is how perfectly it sits within its context. The vistas, colours and landforms are drawn from, and extended into, the garden. And Stellenberg, which is the perfect response to a Cape Dutch manor; it has elegance in its proportions, restraint and considered planting.
A few key design elements of a winning modern garden:
- A water feature of sorts, which grounds a garden and adds an “otherworldly” dimension;
- Structure, without which a garden can fall apart. By getting the structure right, you rely less on the plants when they’re out of season;
- Trees … or at least one to complete the garden. I love the overhead canopy for the shade it offers and how it anchors and adds a vertical dimension.
How do you approach your projects and have you developed a style? I don’t have a particular style, as I like to listen to the site, the architecture and my client’s dreams. I do like my gardens to have a dreamlike quality, though, and aim for a feeling of effortlessness and grace. I’m not mad on “hard” gardens or gimmicks that one tires of. For me, there must always be serenity – it’s the ultimate luxury.
Your water-wise favourites … Portulacaria afra prostrata, Teucrium fruticans, Aloe striata, Aptenia cordifolia, Acmadenia heterophylla, Parkinsonia aculeata (green hair tree), Akokanthera oppositifolia, Barleria repens “Purple Prince”, Seriphium plumosum (slangbos), Elytropappus rhinocertis (renosterbos) – I could go on forever!
A few late summer bloomers you love. Bauhinia galpinii, uniola grass (Chasmanthium latifolium), dahlias, Erica versicolor, Clerodendron ugandense, Dierama pulcherrimum, Plectranthus saccatus, Restio multiflorus, modern rose varieties especially “landscape” roses, Anemone japonica “Honorine Joubert”.
What are you working on? I’m at present working on gardens in Florence, Melbourne and Dubai, which are all different and fun. Here in SA I’m busy with gardens for a new restaurant and gallery in Franschhoek, a gorgeous riverside farm in Stanford, a slow desert garden in Prince Albert, and a number of private homes in Cape Town and Gauteng.
Top local open gardens you believe everyone should visit. The Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden, Rustenberg and Schoongezicht gardens, Babylonstoren, Obesa garden in Graaff-Reinet, Nirox Foundation garden at the Cradle of Humankind, Stellenberg in Cape Town (by appointment), Durban Botanic Gardens, Fairholme in Elgin (by appointment), and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in Roodepoort.