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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.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Limb-eating insects

Ok, thats a pretty scary sounding title for this post. But actually it is quite scary what these insects seem to be able to do. This branch fell down on top of 2 cars that were parked innocently on the side of the road.

On closer inspection, you can see the core of this branch had been entirely eaten away, and there were insects busy trying to burrow away deeper into the tree.

There were 2 of these insects on the ground next to the severed limb. They were anemic-looking and slightly translucent, and both were about 2 inches long. It looked like 2 pairs of wings were busy forming close to the head. Any ideas as to what this creature is?

Falling branches and trees seems to be on the increase in Durban lately. The windy conditions don't help, but at the core (literally) of this problem seems to be insects that eat their way into the trunks and branches of trees. Most often its white ants, but it seems other insects seem to be capable of just as much damage.

The problem is that this is all happening below the surface of apparently healthy trees. Looking at the tree itself there were no obvious signs of the damage being done on the inside. This is something that will start happening more often now that a lot of our street trees have matured and are showing signs of old age and weakening, and are therefore more susceptible to insects and disease.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Beautiful Dirt, Beautiful Plants

Beautiful Dirt? It seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but, yes I think dirt is beautiful! Or at least it should be beautiful. Plants are just like humans, if you get their diet right, they will live long, healthy lives. They'll be less prone to disease, and will look good at the same time.

I've just given a soil sample report to a client, who's garden went through a bit of a rough patch around mid-winter. She called me in to look at the plants in a section of her garden that were looking a bit shabby, and in some cases were being attacked by aphids, scale and downey mildew.

Deciphering a soil analysis, is usually pretty daunting. The key is to know what you're looking for, and what all the figures mean.

The soil report for the 2 samples came back relatively positive, and this is what it looked like:

The report showed that a lack of Nitrogen (Cat2) would most likely be responsible for the poor health of the plants. The report shows that Phosphorous levels are very good, while Pottasium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sodium levels are all healthy.

Clay content and organic matter is a little low.

Nitrogen is very low, and the pH is much too alkaline (most plants prefer a slightly acidic soil).

There is also the potential for deficiencies of micro-nutrients/elements such as Zinc and Copper, but this would be rectified by adding compost to the soil.

The overall best long-term solution would be to add regular large amounts of compost (as is usually the case) to all the beds, but particularly to the bank area below the house level. This will boost all the levels, but will increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, which in turn will help retain moisture and increase the plants abilities to absorb nutrients.

If chemical fertilizers (a short term solution) are used to boost nitrogen levels, then it is best to use Ammonium Sulphate Nitrogen (27%N) or ASN as this will help improve the pH slightly.

In general this specific report and remedial feeding of the soil could probably be easily applied to most of the Durban coastal surrounds.

The key to healthy plants is in the soil. If you can get the soil right, you take most of the irritating work out of the garden. Its also not something that you are ever finished with. Adding compost and feeding your soil should be a regular process, especially in areas like ours, with sandy soils and high rainfall. Most nutrients leach out of sandy soils very quickly.

But even clay soils can benefit from copious amounts of compost - it helps soften the soil, and reduces compaction. In short, you can never really add too much compost to the average garden to get beautiful dirt, and as a result - beautiful plants.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Designing a Family Courtyard

I've given a few options to a friend/client of mine who is looking for ideas in the renovation of this beautiful old house. Aside from the obvious need to revitalize the house, the family that stay in the house need an area where they can entertain and spend time with friends and family.
The existing layout of the courtyard is messy, and has several levels, all of which make it less used than it could be.

The first step is to raise the courtyard level, to bring it level with the house. This along with enlarging the doorways, will make the transition between the inside and outside easier.
The area was also quite exposed to the neighbouring property, and the road, and therefore creating privacy was essential.

In the first option, the water feature was a little too large, so it was scaled down, and a built in seat was added instead. A gas braai/bbq was added to the North wall. The necessary privacy would be created from strategic planting in the garden.

The urn water feature, creates a perfect focal point from the path, and from inside the house and is a simple, elegant, but cost effective way of creating the soothing sound of water. It can be easily made child-safe, by filling the reservoir with pebbles or covering with a grid.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Garden Coaching & The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

In very basic terms, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (or the Law of Entropy) says: "That everything tends towards a state of decay." That's probably a little too simply put, and its also probably a bit of a stretch to try to apply a law of physics to gardening, but here goes...

Looking at gardens over the last few years, I can see a definite pattern forming, of:
  • initial energy and enthusiasm in the planting of a new garden,
  • a tapering off of the enthusiasm,
  • the garden starts to become neglected,
  • its then left to people with very little knowledge of gardening or the care of gardens,
  • the garden begins to decay
Its definitely a symptom, (of something I can't quite put my finger on) of the way we live our lives today - that we have a lot of energy for new ideas and projects, but lack the long term commitment needed to keep nurturing them.

When I look around at the gardens all around me, the majority just seem to be in a slow state of decay. This might be a bit of a glass-half-empty mindset, but the frustrating thing is that I can see these gardens as they are, but in my minds eye, I can see what they could be with a little bit of knowledge and focussed energy.

Another aspect of the Law of Entropy is that without any outside energy acting on a system, it will tend towards chaos.

But maybe a change is on the gardening horizon. Garden Coaching is a new idea that seems to be catching on as a way of learning about gardening from gardeners that have the experience and passion, and want to share some of their enthusiasm. Hopefully this will create the kind of 'outside energy' that we need to bring gardens out of the chaos that they're tending towards.

What is a Garden Coach?

Garden Coaches are experienced, passionate gardeners who give consultations to first-time gardeners, and to those with a little more experience that might just want a second opinion.
They’ll give practical advice, help you identify your plants, give you design ideas or show you how to look after your garden properly.

I am hoping that Garden Coaching goes right past being the latest trend, and really catches on as a positive influence on the average garden, and practical help for the novice gardener.

For more information on Garden Coaching check out The Garden Coaching Blog.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Indigenous Beauties : Cross Berry

Its easy to find plants to admire this time of the year, when everything is looking so lush and green, and every plant is bursting with extravagant flowers.

Grewia occidentalis
Cross Berry

The Cross Berry (Grewia occidentalis) though, is one of those plants that seem to be easily over-looked. Its never one for histrionics. The flowers which start in Summer, are never showy, but are always pretty. Birds and butterflies are not superficial however, and know a Grewia's real value and will often be found eating the 4-lobed fruit from which it derives its name.

It ranges in height from 2-5m, and will grow in Sun or Shade. It is semi-deciduous - in optimum conditions it won't lose too many leaves. Its a great tree for a small garden, and will often form more than one stem. It looks even better when planted to form a grove of Cross Berries.

If you're looking for other small trees for small gardens, check this previous post.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Stink-wood is no exaggeration!

My team and I have just been cutting back a very old, and dying Celtis africana. And for the last few hours, I've been wondering what that smell is thats been following me around... until I remembered the common name for a Celtis is the White Stinkwood.

This is a magnificent semi-deciduous tree, its fast growing, and gets quite big. In the right place it will reach about 20-25m. Its bark is a lovely smooth grey colour, and if it gets enough water through winter, it will keep most of its lush-green foliage.

While it is small, it is often mistaken for a Pigeonwood because of the similarity of its leaves. But there is no mistaking it when it starts to mature.

Celtis africana is a haven for all kinds of birds, lizards and insects. And I found seeds of the amazing Tapinanthus (a type of mistletoe, that I've written about in a previous post) on one of the upper branches, which shows that this particular part of the coastal forest eco-system is working quite nicely.

Excuse the slightly blurred picture, I was balancing rather precariously on the end of a branch to get the photo!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Beautifully Clad Pillars

I must admit, I'm a sucker for using any kind of natural rock in a landscape, or anywhere for that matter. I think its because stone seems to add a certain amount of maturity to its surroundings.

These pillars were the first things to go up on this site that I've been driving past over the last few days. Everything about these pillars appeal to me. From the proportions, to the colours - the browns and oranges and reds of the slate look amazing, and contrast nicely with the white concrete capstone.

To me, its a good sign that the rest of the development is going to be just as beautiful?

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Dealing with White Ants, or How To Control The Universe

Our gardens tell us a lot about ourselves - they often are a reflection of our personality - they reveal our tastes, needs, likes, passions, etc. - but they also sometimes show what we obsess about, what irritates us, and our crazy need to control everything around us.

My guess is that the state of our gardens are probably a good measure of our fragile grip on reality!

Lawns are a perfect example of this - if our lawn is perfect, we console ourselves with the fantasy that we at least have control over some small corner of the universe. And maybe in the uneasy state that is the world's economy, we need to believe we have some control over the universe - as deluded as that may be.

So now that white ant season has hit Durban again, I have a lot more sympathy for the "perfect lawn obsession" that results in the flurry of calls from panicking garden owners asking what can be done to save their lawns from these little "evil" creatures.

There are several ways to deal with termites eating your grass or plants - some more effective than others, but the first step (as in the financial world) is not to panic.
But to deal with them properly its best to understand why they are there...

Most often, they are looking for food. If your lawn has just been laid or recently composted, you may notice an increase in the occurrence of termites. They are present because they have found a new source of food.

They generally also become more noticeable around this time of year, because they are preparing for reproduction and swarming.

I am not a big fan of chemicals, unless the situation is incredibly serious. In most cases applying insecticides is an all-round bad idea - it kills most of the beneficial creatures that live in your soil, and the effects are extremely short-term. They may also make the situation worse in the long term.

The presence of termites is usually easily seen by the fact that the grass starts to look sparse, and small sandy tunnels form above the surface of the soil, or on plants or trees. Make sure that you don't leave anything lying flat on the grass over-night, as the next morning you will usually find the area underneath completely eaten.

I've found that the best way to deal with them, is to disturb these tunnels whenever they are visible, by using the back of a rake, or better yet, give the areas a good spray with water. They usually don't like too much disturbance, and often will move on.

Gardening - as in life, is all about cycles. Sometimes the only control that we can exert is by being patient, doing the basics, and waiting these negative cycles out. Every now and then though, if we look carefully enough, we can find something positive that can be taken out of these crises. Termites are an essential part of the ecosystem - they create habitats, provide food, and make certain nutrients available. The nests also often help the soils absorption of water.

Friday, 3 October 2008

What flower is this?

I was driving past Burman Bush - a very under-appreciated wild area in the middle of Morningside (Durban, South Africa), when this large shrub/small tree caught my eye. Everything around it was bare and brown despite the recent spring rains we've had, but in the afternoon light it really was doing its best to be noticed, so I had to take a picture to try and identify it. It was covered in these beautiful star-shaped flowers, and a few leaves.

Any clues as to what it might be?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Behind The Scenes - Long Narrow Garden

About 10 years ago, there was nothing but grass and weeds around this old church building. We used to mow mainly weeds every couple of weeks in order to keep the place tidy, but it never did ever really look tidy.
The church was growing, and so were their needs. This meant that they needed some places to flow out into: for kids to have Sunday school and play, as well as a place to have tea and chat after the service. The existing paving was inadequate, and boring.

Initially we talked about extending the paved areas around the back of the building, but to do this as cost effectively as possible we needed to re-use the existing brick pavers. We bought some basic concrete flagstones, and used the brick pavers to add some detail. The large squares created, helped to reduce the scale and minimise the feeling of narrowness of the area down the side.

The next area that we tackled, was the weedy area on the other side of the building. The plan was to convert it into a low maintenance garden. The church building created a little bit of a problem, as it sheltered the area from the prevailing winds and therefore the rain. To solve this, we sloped waterproof sheeting into the areas that tended to remain dry. This would in effect, cause rainwater to run into the areas that would not get much natural rain.

We cut holes in the sheeting, and planted up the area with succulents, and other low maintenance indigenous plants. To hide the sheeting we spread decomposed granite over the top, and in between the plants.

The last requirement was an area for the children to play in. We considered planting grass, but this would have required weekly cutting, and in such a small area, the likelihood is that the grass would never have looked very good. Eventually a fine gravel was spread over the relatively small area. This was not the ideal solution either, as the children took great delight in using the small stones to block up the drains, and spread them around. It was also not the softest landing for children if they fell, but in lieu of anything better this was the option we stuck with.

This last week we returned to the garden to do a bit of a spruce-up, and to replace the gravel with artificial grass. It looks amazingly real, needs no water or maintenance, and can be played on without dying off in patches. This seems to be the ideal solution for this area.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Indigenous Trees for Small Gardens

I get quite a bit of traffic on this site from people searching for indigenous trees for small gardens. I think its an indicator of the fact that people are moving from larger gardens to smaller more manageable gardens. Its also a great sign that people are moving towards planting indigenous trees. I'm also encouraged by the fact that people are taking the time to research before visiting nurseries or just planting trees that are unsuitable, or will get too big for the space available.

Ochna serrulata

The advantages of using indigenous as opposed to exotic trees, is that you'll be creating the natural habitat for all kinds of birds, bats, butterflies and other creatures. Also, very often indigenous trees are less prone to disease, and require less water.

I've placed the spotlight on a few trees that would be great in a small garden in previous posts. Some of my favourites are the Tabernaemontana or Toad Tree, and the Halleria lucida.

But there is an amazing variety of trees to choose from. These trees would be easy rivals to most exotic trees that are established first choice plants:

Aloe Barbarae - Tree Aloe - Majestic and statuesque

Brachylaena discolor - Silver Oak - Great coastal shrub/ small tree with silvery foliage

Cussonia species - Most Cabbage trees are great for small gardens, as they don't take up a lot of space, or create too much shade. Beware of the roots though!

Dichrostachys cinerea - not easy to find in most nurseries, but worth the search.

Dombeya species - there are several Dombeyas that are perfect for small gardens.

Heteropyxis natalensis - Fragrant and pretty.

Millettia grandis - attractive purple flowers and reddish pods.

Ochna serrulata - is covered in bright yellow flowers, and then red and black fruits. Is slow growing though. (Photo above)

Olea species - great for a mediterranean style garden, very neat looking, can be easily trimmed to shape.

Trema orientalis - commonly called a Pigeonwood because birds love the berries and use it to nest in. Very fast growing, but relatively short-lived. A little untidy though.

Turraea floribunda - attracts an abundance of birds and insects to its beautiful flowers.

Xylotheca kraussiana - Slow, but worth the wait...

I will expand on some of these trees in posts to follow, but check out Plantzafrica for details on each of them in the meantime. You can also check out other posts on indigenous plants for South Africa.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Indigenous Beauties - Bird attracting garden

My team and I are busy with the tidying of the garden of a beautiful old Durban home. It has a well established indigenous garden, with some exceptional plants.

Halleria lucida - Tree Fuschia

The Tree Fuschia is a great plant for attracting birds. Sunbirds in particular love the nectar that they get from the tubular flowers that sprout profusely from the Halleria's stem. Fruit loving birds also love the green berries that appear in Spring.
Its an excellent plant when you're looking for fast growth, and it grows to a height of anything from about 3m to about 15m. It will grow in full sun or semi-shade, but will look better in a slightly sheltered spot.
It has been used medicinally for skin and ear problems.

Carissa bispinosa

The Carissa, or amatungulu is a very useful plant. It has attractive white flowers, which appear in Summer, followed by bright red fruit, which are high in vitamin C. The fruit are used to make a delicious jam.
It grows in Sun or Semi-shade, and does quite well on windswept dunes. It is often grown as an impenetrable hedge, as it is covered in painfully sharp forked spines.
It is relatively fast-growing once established, but takes a while to get going. It will reach about 3m in height if left, but looks better when cut back into a dense shrub.

Schotia brachypetala

The Schotia is also known as the Weeping Boer-boon (Farmers Bean) . It has been given this name because of the huge amounts of nectar that drip from the beautiful bright-red flowers, and because its pods are shaped like beans. Because of the dripping nectar, its best not to plant it too close to paved areas, or near parked cars. Nectar-loving birds are frequent visitors to this tree. Its relatively fast growing, and reaches about 15-20m high and wide.

Some of the other well-established bird-attracting plants were Aloes, Cussonia, Indigofera, Polygala, and a Toad Tree. One plant I couldn't identify, which had an amazing sweet scent was this little shrub (1.5-2m high):

Any ideas as to what it is?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Behind The Scenes - Rooftop Garden

Its always a good feeling being called in to continue with a garden that you've planted years before. Its good to know that your garden has been appreciated.
I was called recently, by a client that I did work for about 5 or 6 years back - they've done some renovating and re-done the paving around the pool and house. In keeping with the fresh start to their home, they wanted to re-look at the garden.

A lot of the garden had been damaged by the builders (as usual), some plants had gotten a bit out of hand, but in general the garden wasn't looking to bad. Although it must be said, that it is hard for the garden to look bad, when your views from it are so good!

This garden was a little tricky, in that being a roof garden, it had a very shallow space for roots. Also, because it was so exposed, wind would exacerbate the problems associated with shallow roots. Another design consideration, was that my clients wanted to display their sculptures that they had collected on their travels.

The solution, was to plant grasses and flax-type plants (e.g. Dietes, Dianella, Liriope), that would create different textures and colours. These would not only be wind-resistant, but would look at their best as they moved in the wind. They would also, not need a deep space for roots. In between we planted small perennials (e.g. Agapanthus, Kniphofia) that would flower and add touches of colour.
We created paved axis, along which the sculptures would become the focal points, with the city skyline as the backdrop.

While I was taking these photos, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew past, and decided that the pool was a great resting point.

Now to begin, the planning for the new-look for this roof-top garden...

Monday, 1 September 2008

Mongoose or Mongeese?

Actually, they're Mongooses... While dropping my wife off at work, we spotted a band of mongooses warming themselves in the sun. There are usually about 20 of them seen playing in the indigenous plants around the office development that she works at.

As part of the development plan for the area (using DMOSS as an example), there are quite strict guidelines for the planning of the spaces around the offices. The landscaping has been planned in such a way that there are corridors of indigenous vegetation throughout each of the office parks, through which small animals like mongoose, monkeys, birds and in some parks small buck can move.

As the natural habitat for these small creatures gets reduced through development, it will become more and more essential to plan the landscaping of the open spaces extremely carefully. In some cases where this has not been done, some animals that are found only in very small pockets have become quite threatened.
Fortunately though, as in the case of the black-headed dwarf chameleon, developers are becoming more aware of their responsibility to the environment (if sometimes only by the impact on their pockets.)

With half a dozen little babies following the adults around, at least these mongooses seem to be happy with the extra thought that has been put into their environment.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Indigenous Beauties - Rhagoda (Salt Bush)

Rhagoda histata
Salt Bush

I have to say I'm a sucker for grey foliage. I love the beautiful contrasts that it creates with most colours. It's a lot like a bridesmaid at a wedding - it's function is to show the main colours around it, at their best.

Rhagoda is that kind of selfless plant. It's common name is Salt bush, because it grows so well in salty coastal conditions.
It's foliage looks so soft and velvety that it makes you want to take a nap amongst its leaves, but it releases an unpleasant fishy smell when you brush your hand over it.

It has been largely ignored by most people, but is quite a rewarding plant. It grows best in full sun and in well-draining soil. It is fast growing, and will reach about 1m high.
It can be trimmed into a slightly unkempt low hedge, and should be done regularly to keep it neat.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

How much does landscaping cost?

One of the most important elements in landscape budget.

When I meet with clients in the initial stages of planning a garden to discuss their desires for the garden, they will often have a good idea of what plants they really don't like, what views they would like to improve on or hide, and what they hope to do with their new garden.
But very seldom do they seem to have a 'conscious' idea of what their budget for their dream garden would be.

I've used the word conscious, because I believe most people really do have a pretty good idea of what they can spend on the project.
But very often people only realise what their budget is, after hours of planning and designing have gone into a concept that may or may not be achievable with the available funds. This means that it is probably necessary to go back to the drawing board, quite literally in order to come up with a new design that suits the financial constraints.

When I ask for a budget, the answer is usually: "I have no idea how much landscaping costs, how much should I spend?" As a rough guide, for new houses and gardens, you should be setting aside 5-10% of your building costs for landscaping. This seems like a lot of money at first, but when you consider that when a garden is appropriate, and beautiful, it can add about 20% to the value of your home.

On the other side of the coin, what most people don't realise is that designing and building gardens can be one of the most variable costing exercises in any profession. That's not to say that you can't be exact. Its just that you can have a beautiful garden on almost any budget.
I know that sometimes, people are also reluctant to let on how much they can spend in case they are over-charged, but when you consider that designing is a time-based exercise, its best to give good clear guidelines (budgetary, aesthetic and practical) to keep the time and therefore costs down.

Obviously, when you reduce the budget there will always be some trade-offs though. The aspects of a garden that generally-speaking either cost more or have less room for negotiation are things like:
  1. Instant gardens - the more mature a plant is, the more it costs.
  2. Hard materials like paving, and edging have fixed costs that can't be negotiated unless buying in quantity.
  3. Features, such as walls, structures, fountains, statues etc. often have fairly standard associated costs.
  4. Specialist advice or consultation can be quite costly too.
A good design hinges on good information. In order to plan, and estimate correctly, you need to have as much information as possible. Try to collect pictures from books or magazines of gardens or designs that you enjoy. Look for gardens around your neighbourhood that you appreciate. All of this information will help to speed up the design process, and prevent mis-communication.

The truth is though, that most often, you'll find that any designer or landscaper with a good reputation sees what they do as an expression of art. They are often less concerned about money than they are about creating something that can be both enjoyed and admired.

More of my thoughts on budgets here...

Friday, 1 August 2008

The Corner Cafe Hearts Street Trees

This tree gets a new heart despite its decayed heartwood

Durban is quite well known for its abundant well established street trees. The Flamboyant (By name and description) creates an incredible display in Summer with its masses of red flowers. Its flowers take over from where the more serene purple blooms of the Jacaranda end. At the moment the Tabebuia are blooming in splashes of pink and yellow that seem to fall to the floor around the trees like a matching carpet. Other trees that stand out are Tibouchina and Spathodea, while the ever green Trichelia (Essenwoods/Natal Mahogany) and the canopy-forming Albizia (Flatcrown) are some of the few indigenous trees used to line our streets.

Unfortunately, some of these trees that were planted about half a century ago, are starting to reach the end of their lives. There have been a few cases lately of cars being flattened by their huge branches, as the heartwood has rotted away, or white ants have taken what strength is left in their limbs.

So it warmed my cockles to see a tree that had been recently felled because its core had decayed, being given new life by The Corner Cafe. A huge big heart was sculpted out of one of its now well shortened branches by the members of the Tree Amigos - a tree felling company from Durban.

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