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Sunday, 28 December 2008

Don't overthink design...

Its good to have things put into a bit of perspective. I spend so much time planning gardens, trying to choose the right combination of plants and elements, contemplating balance, harmony and contrast, will the garden have seasonal interest, are the plants going to flourish in the conditions they will find themselves in...etc...etc. It sometimes seems like there is so much to be aware of in creating a beautiful garden.

But in the last couple of days, I've had time to relax. In the process, I've just happened on a couple of places as I've driven past that I think are beautiful just as they are, and I couldn't have planned them any better if I spent hours thinking about it.

It just reminds me that beauty is all around us, even amongst the weeds. Beautiful design is everywhere if we open our eyes to it, and often simple is so, so much better.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Topical Tropical

I've heard it said that you can tell a lot about a person by the business they run. A visit to Tropical Nursery in Sherwood (a suburb of Durban), is quite an informative experience, and reveals a lot about the amiable owner - Frank Edwards.

Tropical is always well stocked with the usual plants, pots and nursery-ware. But it's the fact that you can find some quite unique and interesting plants that sheds some light on who Frank is.
The main clue though, as to his eccentricities - are the poems, sayings and garden/life wisdom that are scattered around the nursery. Look out for the city of Gondolin built around a water feature in the middle of the nursery.

To top it all off (literally), Frank's home is a tree house at the top of a beautiful Acacia growing in the heart of his nursery. He is something of a bohemian character to say the least.

But Frank is also leading the way in sustainable living. In attempting to lessen his environmental impact, he has installed a solar geyser for hot water, a worm farm to deal with some of his kitchen waste, and the latest project is an electricity generating wind turbine.

Paula Osborn from Inkanyiso Sustainable Systems - the company that installed the wind turbine says that the plan is to create sufficient energy to run Frank's home and office, and possibly even feed back into the grid.

At this point in time, there is little in the way of financial encouragement from the government, or municipality to make it worth the investment in the equipment necessary. The only pay-off being the self satisfaction in doing what you can for the environment around you.

Going off-grid (creating all your own electricity using 'green' energy) has become quite vogue in environmental circles, but feeding back into the grid is one step better - Germany is one of the countries that has been leading the way for quite some time. An article on Wikipedia states that: "In 2005, 10 per cent of electricity in Germany came from renewable sources and 70 per cent of this was supported with feed-in tariffs."

Apart from trying to educate the public, Paula is working on a few other projects - A Community Gardening program, to make growing beds of vegetables easier for the average person, and experimenting with several different vermiculture methods. She also sells worms for any budding vermiculturists out there?

If you are in the area, and have time these holidays - take a trip to Tropical Nursery, and spend some time looking around - you'll come away a little wiser!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Stone Designs For The Home - John T Morris

I found this book on Saturday that I couldn't put down until I had absorbed every detail in every photograph. It shows seven commissions that Stonemason John Morris has worked on during his career.

His work takes your breath away. I literally had goosebumps as I paged through the book and looked at the way he managed to fit every rock and every stone together so perfectly. From garden walls and steps, to stone cladded interiors. What makes his work even better is that it is all done by hammer and chisel.

I also appreciated his honesty as he explains how he came to be a stonemason. He says that people often assume that he has always aimed to be where he is today, when in actuality he happened on stonemasonry almost by chance.

He describes it as his calling, and it's easy to agree with him! If you enjoy stonework, then this is definitely a book worth buying.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Entrance Area Garden Design

I was a bit disappointed today to hear that a garden that I've been working on some designs for over the past few weeks, is not going to happen. I've been quite looking forward to building this garden.

This is the front entrance at the moment. It is at the top of a long driveway, and is quite plain, with some colourful annuals in pots to brighten things up a bit. There are probably too many different types and styles of pots - it would need something to bring everything together in this area for it to be successful. It also gets quite hot from about 10 in the morning.

The client was looking for something simple but colourful to brighten up the area. It should be low maintenance, but create a great first impression. My suggestion for the new entrance area was built around trying to create the impression of overlapping curves or waves. The first curve would consist of closely fitting rock and pebbles, and the corresponding section of pathway would have the pebbles set into a concrete screed.

The second 'layer' would step up, with a cobblestone edging along the top of the wall. The planting would have been a combination of low growing vygies (mesembryanthemum) or other colourful sun loving plants. Another option would have been to use temporary planting like annuals, so that my very busy clients could have a part to play in the garden without it being overly taxing on their time. The corresponding section of pathway would be an exposed aggregate with a white screed.

The next level up would have an urn with or without running water, and more permanent planting that would grow to about 300mm-500mm in height. Possibly Crassula or Senecio?

The final level would have planting with longer leaves for contrast. Some options would be Red Hot Poker, Bulbine, Agapanthus, or even Aloe. The last section of pathway before the white tiles would be a white concrete screed.

The planting is never final at this stage, because I like to live with the idea for a while before deciding on the planting. I usually start with the characteristics of the plants that I would like to use in an area, and then refine that to a few options before deciding on the final plant. But often even then, I sometimes have to make concessions because plants are unavailable. This then sometimes has a knock-on effect which results in having to change other plants to get the right combination.

When I get more time later this month, I'll post my ideas for the front garden, which was the area I was most excited about.

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