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Room With a View

The parterre garden at Fairholme has been reconceptualised with a lush planting of grasses and bulbs

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Room With a View
Room With a View

The parterre garden at Fairholme has been reconceptualised with a lush planting of ornamental grasses and bulbs inspired by the surrounding views.

Fairholme garden is on show this weekend, 4–5 November 2017 as part of Elgin Open Gardens. Walk through its structured walkways and discover its many plants and bulbs. For more information visit elginopengardens.co.za.

IN BRIEF
SIZE Approximately 250 square metres of a 1 hectare garden
ASPECT Easterly
SOIL TYPE Stony, clay loam and well-draining soil
X FACTOR A year-round display of seasonal bulbs and grasses with breathtaking views

As is true of most gardener’s gardens, there is a constant evolution. Not only alongside the sway of the seasons, but also of plant palette that ebbs and swells with plant yearnings or a crazed desire to turn an area on its head and start afresh. It’s in a gardener’s DNA and at Fairholme garden, the green gene runs deep. Home to plant specialists and nursery owners Duncan and Liz Henderson, it is their daughter, garden designer Mary Maurel, who laid the bones of the garden – and the newly conceptualised parterre that hovers above the Elgin Valley. 

‘From the beginning we decided that the areas closest to the house needed to be formal in layout,’ says Mary. And so the transformation from inherited neglected garden to a landscape of interconnected garden rooms began – each a canvas for Duncan and Liz’s acclaimed collection of grasses, perennials and hedging plants grown in the Fairholme nursery.

‘I love the textures and the movement of the grasses. Up close it is far from perfect, but I love the natural feeling’.

A wonderful synergy of soft textures and a year-round colour palette inspired by the surrounding views of the Elgin valley. The sundial sculpture draws one’s focus into the centre of the space, detracting from the awkwardly triangulated site
The rose terrace
A gravel walkway flanked by herbaceous perennials and shrubs

The triangulated space to the east of the house proved the most challenging. To detract from being drawn to the point of the triangle, Mary configured the space in such a way that fooled the eye. An axis was drawn from the front door of the house into the centre of the space where a sundial was positioned as bespoke focal point. ‘In any garden I design, structure is key,’ says Mary, who established it here with brick-edged gravel pathways and a planted parterre of low Myrtus communis hedges. Initially, heliotrope was massed within the spaces but was soon replaced by soft, pink-flowering Gaura lindheimeri. ‘Whilst the gaura looked great in summer, we found it a bit overbearing in full flower and then desperately bare in the winter.’ As such, they agreed to review the planting. 

‘I knew it should be kept simple, and I wanted it to be more interesting than a mass planting, yet still have impact’says Mary, who credits the inspiration for the new planting palette to her assistant, Eduard Smidt. ‘Eduard suggested we look beyond the garden at the view for clues. He was so right.’ The view is expansive blue skies, white orchards in blossom, the earthy tones of newly ploughed fields and densely planted wind breaks. 

And so this area of the garden took on a new spin. Grasses were used for the base layer and bulbs were selected for year-round interest, picking up on the translucent colours from the surrounding views. The result is a wonderful tension between the formality of the hedges and the ethereal quality of the bulbs 
and grasses that gently sway over the Elgin Valley. 

An array of ornamental grasses in the grass garden
The upper terraces are a showcase for the collection of grasses and perennials grown at the nursery
Stipa gigantica and Myrtus communis hedges

Photography Heidi Bertish