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Explore This Sprawling Stellenbosch Garden Where Layers of Plants Dance in the Wind

Designed to suit the surroundings, a Stellenbosch country garden features painterly planting and an undulating meadow

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By House & Garden South Africa | May 2, 2024 | Gardens

Perched against one of the Cape’s most picturesque mountain scapes, this garden near Stellenbosch plays up a dynamic composition of formal and free-flowing design. A former plum orchard, it features an alchemy of bold and recessive shapes, constraint and abundance.

On a terrace above the swimming pool of this Cape Winelands property, billowy Gaura lindheimeri‘Whirling Butterflies’ and Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ frame a Dylan Lewis sculpture and the surrounding vistas. Photography by Elsa Young.

When the owners decided to redesign the garden in 2006 they approached Magriet Cherry, along with Cape landscape architect, Cobus Meiring, to assist. Using structure – the cornerstone of any good garden – they corralled rich, textural layers of plants to create dynamic compositions that frame the surrounding landscape.

Due to the elevated position of the property, wind provides constant movement among the garden’s ornamental grasses. Here, feathery Nassella tenuissima and Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ create a free-flowing composition. Photography by Elsa Young.

While the bones of the original garden remain, it was altered not only to open to the valley and mountains, but also to echo an indigenous landscape with meadow grasses and painterly flowers.

To expose the sweeping views, the bulk of the plum trees, as well as hundreds of invasive wattles and a few pine trees, were removed. As a nod to the garden’s roots, a section of the old plum orchard was retained and still bears fruit during early summer. The garden defies its windy position on the lower slopes of a mountain range.

The indigenous garden surrounding the formal lawn terraces is filled with textural layers of fuchsia-coloured Anisodontea ‘Elegant Lady’ in the foreground, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ and spires of Agapanthus praecox, receding to the silvery hues of Metalasia muricata. Photography by Elsa Young.

‘The wind exposure, harsh temperatures, along with poor soil, played a defining role in the plant choices,’ says Magriet. Rather than battling the elements, she used a process of trial and error to select plants that would thrive in these conditions.

In a bid to temper the south-easterly winds that sweep through the property, hundreds of trees were introduced to suit specific conditions – swamp and clay areas; wind and sand. ‘The copses of trees, as well as installing a drainage system,’ says Magriet, ‘were two of the defining factors of the garden’s success.’ The garden’s seemingly casual groupings of interweaving plants are a master class in balancing nature and design. Although free-flowing, a well-defined layout provides just enough order to create a laid-back yet curated look. A case in point is the formal terraced garden that flows into gentle, undulating indigenous planting. ‘When you stand on the terraces and look towards the mountain, it feels as if you are immersed in nature. This wonderful natural aspect has added considerable depth to the property,’ says Magriet.

The courtyard features Gaura lindheimeri, Salvia involucrata‘Boutin’ and Achillea millefolium, all in soft shades of pink, while a copse of Celtis sinensis provides cover. Photography by Elsa Young.

Reflecting the home’s classic architecture, beds of Murraya exotica and pure-white old English roses frame the terraced lawn, while the swimming pool area features an old English-style garden filled with breezy planting. These casual groupings of country-style favourites serve as a subtle prelude to the informal indigenous section that lies beyond. Adding a sense of structure, curvilinear pathways meander through pockets of indigenous flora, towards the nearby dam.

A transparent framework of frothy masses, the meadow area has been seeded with indigenous flowering seeds and grasses. Photography by Elsa Young.

Drawing inspiration from American prairie gardens and English meadow planting, the outskirts of the property are lined with a rush of wildflowers, uninhibited by clearly defined flowerbeds and seemingly haphazardly strewn by the wind. ‘It is not ideal to have heavy traffic through the grasses, so I created formal grass pathways by cutting it with a lawnmower.’

The recessive shapes of Miscanthus spp. and the soft lines of blue Salvia azurea draw the eye to a mature Celtis sinensis. Photography by Elsa Young.

The warm conditions have proven to be ideal for the meadow garden. Here, wispy ornamental grasses like Eragrostis elliottii‘Wind Dancer’, Aristida junciformis and Miscanthus ‘Silver Ribbon’ come alive on a windy day. Through their hazy screens, one can see glimpses of colourful blooms. ‘With this type of planting, it’s important to control weeds and focus on succession to ensure year-round interest.’ Magriet keeps a firm hand on the meadow planting and seeds are harvested monthly from different areas to establish new colour schemes.

Chickens roam freely in the vegetable garden. Photography by Elsa Young.