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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Roof Garden That Wasn't

I am convinced that the best design ideas come out of challenges. Obstacles are fertile ground for inspiration. Adversity encourages creativity. I believe that the reason why South Africa is so full of incredible, inspiring, inventive people is because of our troubled past, and our current challenges. So when problems arise, I'm learning to embrace their constraints rather than to try and circumnavigate them.

I had the fortune recently of meeting a new client with a wonderful enthusiasm for everything around her. It was a privilege to have a client with an eye for design and beauty, a love for nature and a confidence in my abilities.

Back Garden with views over Palmiet Nature Reserve
The garden was a mix of various styles, with some interesting layers to it. The front garden although a little overgrown, had a lovely tropical feel to it, with some interesting plants that had been collected over the years. While the back garden was a fairly blank slate surrounded by some beautiful old indigenous trees, and a splendid view out over the Palmiet Nature Reserve.
Front tropical styled garden
The challenge in the garden came from the least expected source - the biggest part of the large open lawn was really a thin veneer of grass over a 1 foot thick reinforced-concrete slab! Not much chance of doing anything interesting there...

After giving it a bit of thought, and looking through the photos, I decided that the front garden didn't need too much in the way of redesigning. I would move some of the plants around, and take some out altogether to open it up and give a more open feel, and do some minor planting.

My approach to the back garden was to look at it as if it was a roof garden - which to all intents and purposes it was (without the building underneath), and cut my cloth accordingly. We would use mainly grasses and succulents that would be able to cope well with a shallow root system, and potential drought conditions, while at the same time encouraging even more birds into the garden.
Rough sketch of the back garden
My client was characteristically enthusiastic about the ideas and the way forward, so we began the project with the task of opening up some holes in the concrete in which we could plant some taller plants. At this point I had assumed that the concrete would be at the most 4-5 inches, and I was certain that it wouldn't have been reinforced.
It took twice as long as I had expected, and one jack hammer chisel head later before we managed to cut holes that I was happy with.

The rest of the project went more or less according to plan, and I think the final result worked really well.

We kept a section of grass on the right (where there is no concrete), for children to play on and to keep the open feel of the area, and we created pathways through the natural planting, one which led to a bench under the trees, and the other to a covered 'entertainment area' which we paved and incorporated into the garden using the same gravel as the pathways.

Euphorbia, Aloe, Cycad and Fever tree
Gravel pathway leading to paved entertainment area

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