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A diverse and sensitive Table mountain garden by landscape designer Athol McLaggan

His naturalistic approach and mutual respect for site resulted in a garden that celebrates nature

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By Heidi Bertish  | January 16, 2022 | Gardens

At its core, this garden story is one of synergy and response to site that was as intuitive as it was environmentally sensitive. From the outset, there was a natural connection between homeowner, architect, garden designer and landscaper. The kind of connection so often at the root of revealing the magic in a site- particularly when forces join in a like-minded approach and respect for the site.

The garden evolved naturally as the house was built. ‘It was unique in that there was never a detailed garden plan drawn up, says garden designer, Athol McLaggan of the process ‘With dramatic views of Devils Peak, the Eastern buttress of Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the idea was to remain true to the wild view and invite the wildness into the garden, right up to and even into the house,’ says Athol.

Photo by Elsa Young

The garden sits on a slope with an established perimeter border of evergreen screening. With the Eastern buttress of Table Mountain covered in predominantly green indigenous forest vegetation, a simple indigenous palette of trees and shrubs such as big num-num, Cape holly and mountain cabbage trees were chosen to merge the slope, property boundary and the view, into one seamless flow.

Photo by Elsa Young

Water and conservation is key to the garden. Naturally filtered eco pools in the lower half of the garden flow from one level to the next, augmented by solar power. Water from the swimming pool flows through a shallow bed of water sedges, reeds, rushes and grasses- all selected for their filtering ability, and into a lily pond before being pumped back up to the swimming pool. The result is drinking and swimming water that tastes and feels like it flows from a mountain rock pool. The swimming pool, is the key anchor element of the garden. Jane Visser Architects was bold in its design, position and size and as result, it sits comfortably within the scale of the grand view. These interconnected bodies of water have become an important habitat for an Cape Sugarbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Bulbul, Forest Canary, Chirping Frog, the Cape River Frog, Garden Acraea Butterfly and Julia Skimmer dragonflies.

Photo by Elsa Young

The stairs between the pool and the house needed to be direct for easy access between the levels. To maintain a light footprint, risers were built in stone and the treads left open and postioned along the natural routes taken by the builders during the build. ‘Planting happened around that natural flow to draw the garden across the stairs,’ says Athol. As the garden matures and the low-growing crassulas, delicate felicias, cotyledons, miniature agapanthus and variety of grasses establish, the stairs become less obvious and more like a living part of the garden.

Photo by Elsa Young

The homeowners embraced the idea of bringing the garden right up to the house and through it, so that even an inner courtyard with a majestic water oak tree, feels connected to Table Mountain. There are no traditional lawns or garden beds. Rather it is a place where diversity and the rhythms of nature are embraced.

Garden’s Notebook:

‘My approach to gardening is grounded in respect for all forms of life, embracing the idea that with different forms of life comes diversity and how through that diversity we are all interconnected. The more diverse a garden, society or system, the healthier and more robust it will be. How does this approach relate to creating a garden? It is about respect for the site and learning as much as possible about the site before you start to garden. It is about planting a simple but diverse range of plants- plants that grow naturally in your garden without support of irrigation, fertiliser or noisy machinery. Finally, it is about remaining engaged with your garden as it grows and evolves. The journey of a garden is an ongoing and ever changing one. A simple, diverse and naturalistic approach to gardening embraces change and evolution rather than rallying against it.’ – Athol McLaggan

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