A boundless Cape garden, brimming with swaying drifts of textured planting and a dreamy colour palette, floats above the eastern slopes of Table Mountain.
Along the wide, tree-lined avenues of the Cape’s southern subsrbs, just below the local botanical treasure that is Kirstenbosch Botanical garden, lies a sweeping garden, so lightly planted with feathery grasses, tall spires, ornamental perennials and lacy umbels, that the experience of it is more like being surrounded by drifts of gently floating clouds, than in a domesticated, green space.
Key to its character is landscape designer Franchesca Watson’s response to the contemporary architecture of the house, and her intention to open it up to the spectacular views of Table Mountain. In line with her vision, the homeowner yearned to create a contemporary, romantic space reminiscent of the highveld garden of his childhood home, and so, in many ways, it worked to incorporate a moving palette of grasses and plant varieties that shift and sway in the wind.
The architecture allowed the garden to generously wrap the building on all sides, presenting an opportunity for contained, gardened courtyards and private, green spaces that visually connect to the interiors through floor-to-ceiling windows. These tranquil enclaves are detailed with a collection of wispy grasses, delicate pelargoniums, penstemon spires, pink bergenia and carpeting ajuga repens.
The garden pivots around the juxtaposition of intimate enclosure, open space and the seamless flow between the two. The main garden – designed around the idea of laid-back living, long lunches and outdoor summer entertaining – boasts an open lawn, fringed by willowy planting that doubles as a gauzy, planted screen to the swimming pool. challenging level changes softened by gently curving lawned stairs edged in local sandstone make for easy transition between upper and lower areas. Pockets of purple slender Vervain (Verbena rigida) and Fairy Lilies (Zephyranthes candida) planted into the stairs further dissolve the change in levels, drawing the eye across the lawn and over downy plantings of pennisetum ‘tall tails’, pink sage bush (Syncolostemon obermeyerae) and summer lilac (Buddleja davidii).
The result is that boundaries have melted away. Although highly detailed and manicured in areas, the garden has a touch of wildness,’ says Franchesca. ‘One seems to float out and away here.“
Franchesca talks us through the rationale behind her free-flowing, textural planting.
‘The materials and colours of the house tend towards dark hues, against which all greens pop. To create the backdrop to the garden, I used what I call saturated greens in mid to dark hues, with non-reflective leaves, such as viburnums and bauhinias. Smaller plants, such as buddlejas, were then used closer to the home to bring in varying textures and foliage colour in lighter shades of green and grey – and even lilac-leafed Vitex trifolia ‘purpurea’ for splashes of purple. Flower colour is always a bonus, and here, there is an ongoing seasonal display, with blues and purples and fearless shots of bright reds, oranges and yellows. A feeling of endless space is created with bolder textures: think big flower heads of daylilies, planted close to the home, and drifts of finer textures, such as Salvia uliginosa, planted further away.’
Shooting the breeze
A garden that moves appeals to the senses.
‘A plant palette that shifts and sways in a garden is one of my fascinations,’ says Franchesca of this garden boasting a multitude of plant varieties that spring to life in a gentle breeze. ‘The movement of certain plants in the wind can be beautiful. Think tall, willowy grasses, such as umbels and spikes. The garden is protected from the wind closer to the house and catches the breeze a little further out, so it was the perfect opportunity to concentrate on plants that are happy in motion. The lower corner of the garden was ideal for the grassy spiral walk of Aristida junciformis, which creates a dramatic spectacle when viewed from above.’ Water movement is always magical and adds a further dimension of sound. This garden has a simple, round pond, doubling as an informal seat, in the centre of which is a small bubbling spout that makes the very subtle sound of gently moving water. The effect is a modern take on an old idea and gives a great focal point to the plant-rich zone outside an indoor or outdoor conservatory space.