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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Indigenous beauties

We really are spoilt for choice in South Africa when it comes to plants. Some amazing facts about South Africa's plant life:
  1. There are more than 20300 plants in South Africa, or 10% of the worlds plants are found here.
  2. South Africa is the most biodiverse country relative to its size in the world.
  3. The Cape Floristic Region is one of the richest areas in the world when it comes to floral biodiversity.
  4. We have the worlds smallest and largest succulent plants
Its astounding that we are so reluctant to use indigenous plants in our landscapes when we have such amazing, unique and beautiful plants available.

Setaria Megaphylla
Broad leafed bristle grass

Setaria megaphylla is a tall grass that loves cool moist conditions, in the wild it is often found in clumps in the shade of trees. Its leaves are broad and deep green, and it grows to about 1.5m high. Birds love this plant - from its abundant seeds for food, to its leaves which are used for nest building. It suits a natural style garden, and looks best when planted amongst other grasses.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Thorny subjects

Recently, I've been planning a garden, that young children will use. In the past, when designing with children in mind, I've had a few discussions with clients who are concerned about introducing any plants with thorns or similar.
I've spent my childhood playing in large gardens with all kinds of plants, and later moving to a house that bordered a nature reserve with other types of dangers. My parents taught me to be careful of any plants that I didn't know about, and to have a healthy respect for nature.
I really do believe that being given a fair amount of freedom, and not being kept too safe made me into the independent person I am today.
Gardens are like life - they are full of beauty and full of danger, but they help to teach us where our boundaries should be. Sometimes these boundaries are found by standing on thorns, or being stung by insects, sometimes even breaking bones from falling out of trees, but every bit of pain was a valuable lesson learned.
A garden for a child without 'danger' whether imagined or real is boring and lacks stimulation.
Obviously its extremely important not to place life threatening plants or objects into a garden, but to have a completely sterile and safe environment teaches us nothing about life outside the garden.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Four Dimensions

One of the many aspects of landscaping that I enjoy, is taking a thought or an idea, and turning it into a two dimensional drawing, and then into four dimensional reality.

The fourth dimension is time - watching a garden change and grow into the picture that you imagined years before. Seeing in the little seedlings and saplings what they will one day become, is really one of the most satisfying things.

This can also be a frustration. In the beginning stages while plants are still small, and the garden is nothing like what it will become, it is difficult for the client to see the potential inherent in the design. At this point, it comes down to 2 things:

1. Communication

I have really tried to make an extra effort to give realistic expectations of the various stages, but sometimes when everything looks chaotic, its still necessary to reassure the client that in time it will begin to take shape and it really will look as you described!

2. Trust

This is where previous work can help to allay fears. A portfolio can do wonders. Before and after photos do a good job of giving realistic expectations.

Work that comes from referrals is usually fairly pain free, as a certain level of trust has already been assumed.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

A picture speaks a 1000 words

I thought the best way to start off the blog would be to use some pictures. I obviously have my own preferences when it comes to style, but I always try to plan a design around 3 factors:
  1. The specific site, architecture and surrounds
  2. The clients needs and wants
  3. Something new or interesting to add some originality
All too often, I see garden designers working to a formulaic style, with the same plants, used in the same way every time. To a certain extent this is affected by the client, who's reference point is generally the gardens seen around their neighbourhood. However, it is the responsibility of the landscaper to educate, and sometimes stretch the client, by introducing new ideas, concepts, plants and materials.

South African garden design is definitely in need of some stretching - there are some great international designers that we can learn from. From the sometimes outlandish Diarmuid Gavin, to flowing tropical Burle Marx, and water-coloured Gertrude Jekyll.

If there is a South African style garden, it would be the use of indigenous plants in a fairly natural way. But even this can be developed further.

The following are pictures of some of the gardens that I have designed. Each of them were as different as the clients that I designed them for.

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