Robins in the garden

Nothing beats the sight of little Cape Robin Chats hopping around in your garden. Such cheerful little
creatures. As the duck in and out of the garden greenery I always hold my breath willing them to
stay a little longer before flitting off.


Recently I had noticed the robins more frequently than usually and was intrigued. Whilst enjoying
the early evening quiet of my garden a little while ago I saw the robins disappearing into and out of a
large climbing rose. My interest was piqued, what were they up to?


A few days later whilst hand-watering my garden in the evening I noticed the little robins boldly
hopping nearby looking for insects or worms that had been disturbed by the water. Relishing the
moment of them so close I was reluctant to move on and happened to peer into an ornamental
garden lantern hanging under the climbing rose. What a beautiful neat little nest inside there – so
that was what they had been up to!
Later in the week I was able to get another quick peek and was thrilled to see 3 little pale pinkish
eggs tucked into that sweet little well-hidden home! For days I had been hearing the Piet-My-Vrou
calling in the trees around – I think he or she had been looking for that nest too as they like to lay
their own eggs in a Robin Chat’s nest and have the little robin do all the hard work of feeding and
rearing a chick so much bigger than their own. Thankfully this time the potential home invaders had
been outwitted by the clever robins!


Seeing the beauty of new life happening right before our very eyes, watching our boys’ wide-eyed
wonder as the got a quick peek at those three hungry mouths I was so thrilled that we had decided
on a more natural approach to gardening. Organic fertilizers helped keep our worm population
plentiful, no pesticides or herbicides mean a regular supply of creepy crawlies for our feathered
guests and indigenous trees help create that healthy habitat. I really love it when a garden becomes
a wild-life sanctuary, no matter how small that wild-life is!


Before we knew it the nest was empty! Our boys were shocked that in a little over two weeks those
eggs hatched and the babies had fledged already! Incredible how quickly it happens! We haven’t
seen too much of those three little babies but the parents have been very busy looking for food for
them ever since (having three teenage boys I know the feeling!)

Surprise me garden

“Surprise me!” she said.
“Give me colour and joy all year!” she said.
“Hmm” I thought, “how fun to have something a little different as a brief!” after meeting my very
sophisticated, glamorous new client last year. Surprises! Colour! Joy! What a brilliant challenge.
Landscape trends come and go but some are perennial favourites – and for a good reason – there is
always something charming about an English country garden, always something glamorous about
the classic formal all-white garden, always something wholesome about the waterwise-indigenous-
succulent garden. But a year-round surprise garden, now that is not something I have been asked for
before.


Driving away from the spectacular site my mind buzzed with ideas – “Surprises!” – what about bulbs
that pop up at different times of the year to add that pop of unexpected interest amid an already
beautifully designed garden? Absolutely! Unusual flowers that provide a talking point? Definitely!
“Colour!” Oh how I love colour! A riot of colours! A whole kaleidoscope! Colour all year! Bold
colours, subtle colours, I love a client that loves colours! And “Joy!” What will spark joy for this lovely
lady I wondered? Fragrances? Surprising colour combinations? Seeing birds and butterflies enjoying
her glorious garden? Yes I thought, all of those!


So I set to work and how I savoured every moment of creating this garden. I planted Amaryllis bulbs
in between her other flowers to pop up over December and received a thrilled message at Christmas
time as she marvelled at the stunning big bold flowers which she hadn’t known were there. This
morning I received a picture of the unusual spider-lilies and these glorious orange Crocosmia
popping up among the regal blue Salvias with another message to say how she loved coming home
to her “rainbow-like paradise.”


I think what I am enjoying most about this completed project is knowing that she is going to love the
jewel-like sunbirds that are going to be frequenting her flowers in winter, the butterflies enjoying
the heady scented buddlejas in spring and the blue squills popping up in October and the ….. Sshh,
cant say too much, don’t want to ruin the surprise!

Landscaping with Succulents

With water security becoming a real threat to this country, it is time that we reassess the way landscaping is done. While key words like water wise planting are bandied around, nothing fits the bill more than succulents.

We are blessed with a great variety of succulents in this country. Their foliage is generally uniquely colorful, from dark burgundy coloured leaves to bright orange spikes.

The flowers are generally unique too, making them a talking point in any landscape, and a point of interest.

Their maintenance is minimal, as are their water requirements. They grow in almost any soil condition, and generally need very little space. A good dose of sunlight is almost always a must.

Succulents can be paired with other plants in the landscape. They go particularly well with ornamental grasses and proteas.

To have a truly unique landscape, full of colour and really water efficient, succulents tick all the boxes

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Creating a Sophisticated Contemporary Landscape

This is a very trendy landscape look at the moment. It is achieved using clean lines and uncluttered planting. It tends towards the formal landscape look, with a touch of one or two colors, to create interest throughout the landscape.

It is relatively maintenance free, apart from when well defined hedges are incorporated into the landscape. Interest is also achieved through structural plants, or statues. The structural plants in the landscape create the focal points, and draw the eye in.

If colour is used, white is recommended. It is dramatic in it’s own way, yet fits in to the overall uncluttered landscape. Swathes are created throughout the landscape to create continuity.

The clean lines, uncluttered theme is the antidote to the ubiquitous modern English cottage landscape, and yet a lot of the rules apply to both

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Japanese gardens 

Even though the West think of Japanese Gardens as one style; they are in fact many different approaches and philosophies, some based on traditional or spiritual meanings. They do, however, have some commonalities.

Harmonious layouts are achieved by careful placement of objects and plants of different sizes, forms and textures. These are frequently contrasted between the rough with the smooth, vertical with horizontal, or hard and soft.  The area is often very limited, however space between objects is essential. 

Accirding to the Garden Encyclopedia Japanese gardens are appreciated as visual compositions for contemplation, rather than as spaces to be cultivated or enjoyed for leisure.

The famous dry Zen gardens use fine gravel raked into patterns, with minimal planting, sometimes just with moss at the bases of the rocks. 

Water is seen as purifying, often in small pools or streams.

Planting is very controlled with informal stepping stones or meandering pathways leading to different points of interest providing an aid to meditation and relaxation.

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Modernist garden styles

In Modernist designs asymmetry is vital; which is characterised by free flowing space and the use of light and dark. Views and vistas vary with one or more being emphasised. The design can be interpreted in more than one way.

Sharp lines make the contrast between vertical and horizontal lines with water often being used for it’s reflective quality. Materials are minimal with smooth concrete being preferred for paving and walls. Large slabs are used for continuity. Planting normally only features hedges, trees, and lawn with some structural planting for focal points. 

Regular grids are often used to connect the house to the garden thus blurring the lines between the inside and outside. 

Modernist garden design is becoming popular again with a lot of attention being paid to selective planting and high quality finishes. 

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Foliage Gardens

This style of garden is seen across the world, however it is more prevalent in warmer climates where there is lush plant material and a jungle feel. The design is driven by texture and shape.

Clearings are carved out of dense vegetation creating a sense of separation, with paths joining the clearings. Bark or soft mulches are used to soften the focus and create another colour pallette.

There are generally no hard shapes in these gardens, however rustic man made structures can provide interesting features.

Water is obviously a natural choice for features. From large waterfalls to still ponds and even pools.

Foliage gardens date back to the 19th century colonial gardens where plant material was collected from the tropical colonies and mixed with colourful English country gardens. 

Some designers use grasses, water and woodland planting, but on the whole formal lawns often dont form part of this kind of design.
 
Taller species provide height while smaller species grow underneath. With the climate gradually warming, plants which were unthinkable two decades ago are now being used in the historically colder areas

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Cottage Gardens

Often recognised for their abundant planting, colour and apparent confusion, cottage gardens are traditionally simple and regular in layout, with a central path to the main door and rectangular beds on each side. Originally used by peasants as food gardens, the modern landscaper has less edible plants and more colour and scents to compensate for the harsh city environs. 

The scale of these gardens is normally small with dense planting even sometimes alliwed to overflow across pathways. Hedges are often used to divide the garden into different “rooms”. The formal hedges contrast well with the loose planting style.

Hard materials used include natural stone or brick, with weathered materials being favoured. Gravel is used for pathways. 

Pathways are narrow so plants can intentionally obscure the way. This romantic approach softens the garden and brings you into close contact with the garden. 

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Formal Gardens 

These are an expression of man’s dominance over nature. The natural features and elements are contained in an imposed geometry and structure (definition courtesy of Encyclopedia of Garden design). The best examples of these are found in France, Greece and Italy. 

A balanced design through symmetry and a visible ground plan will create a successful formal garden. Organised around a central axis formal gardens often focus on a focal point visible from the house. In larger areas there may be a couple of these.

Geometry is key to the success of a formal garden. Water is normally another key feature. Either as a reflective surface or with fountains. Lawns and clipped hedges are key, defining soaces and views. Pleached trees are making a popular comeback. 

Control over nature is the over riding theme. One of the best examples of this is Versailles which while vast, can be incorporated into smaller gardens.

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Understanding Garden Styles 

In design terms style refers to the way we show our ideas and organise materials, colours, plants and furniture to create a design which can make sense and be appreciated.  Some styles go out of fashion rapidly others stand the test of time.

In classically inspired formal design – order, continuity, repetition and symmetry are used to create visual and spatial balance. Even those this goes back ages the same principles still apply in modern gardens.

In the Modernist approach the design is more relaxed and informal. Many modern designers have adapted the Modernist odeas to achieve stylish, clean, and crisp gardens. 

The idea of a working garden  has been a reoccurring idea through history with the emphasis being on supplying food for the table. The difficulty is combining functionality with aesthetics. Other functional space for the modern family includes leisure, sport, relaxing spaces, etc.

As the population increases the space for gardens is under increasing pressure. Just as form and function of the gardens is changing so are new styles being created. The conceptualist garden style celebrates the man made, creating dramatic and often thought provoking gardens that can be humorous or whimsical, philosophical and profound, short lived or permanent  (definitions courtesy of Encyclopedia of Garden design). The opposite of this is fusionism which embraces a wide range of stylistic influences and combines them in exciting new compositions.

As styles and references merge so new designs ideas and possibilities arise. New links with architecture and art are taking place which allows garden design to be considered a dynamic and socially relevant discipline. 

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