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From The Ground Up

Landscape designer Natasha Alexander transforms a Jo’burg garden through considered use of local plants

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By | June 7, 2017 | Gardens

During these drought-stricken days in South Africa, water has become a precious commodity and the ethos of gardening has shifted to a more environmentally friendly approach, namely fewer pesticides and more hardy, less thirsty plants. So naturally, indigenous planting has come into its own at last. In 2014, two Westcliff properties in Johannesburg were amalgamated into one. A deceptively complex project, according to the owners, as there was a difference in height between the sites, as well as a steep slope at the back of the property where heavy rains could flood the house and lower garden. Their vision was to create a formal, traditional garden in front of the house and a mostly indigenous garden on the stony hill behind it, so they set out to find a landscaper they could entrust with their venture. ‘Natasha proved to be just the kind of person we felt comfortable working with,’ explains the owner. ‘She listened carefully to our needs and desires and entered into the project with a sensitivity that we had not encountered before.’

The garden is water-wise as most of the plants thrive in the summer rainfall’ – Natasha Alexander

A cool and lush oasis is created by sculptural trees underplanted by drifts of shade-loving plants while an inviting bench sits alongside a stone water feature

Delmas stone was used to create paths and terraces allowing for easy access and better water management for the sloping garden

Protea cynaroides

Drought-resistant plants, such as agapanthus and helichrysum, sprawl informally over rocks in the sunnier areas

The indigenous portion involved 18 months of back-breaking work as Natasha and her team, led by Godfrey Ndlovo and Matheus Thuma, attacked the wildly overgrown site. Firstly thinning out the existing indigenous trees to let in the sunlight, then removing exotic or unsightly trees. ‘It was challenging,’ says Natasha. ‘The sheer hard labour of manually bringing up all of the compost, topsoil, stone and finally, plant material as well as preparing the holes on a very rocky, partially barren koppie.’

Initially, she planted densely, using fast-growing ground covers in order to hold the soil, but as the garden became more established, it was necessary to keep editing. The hill has been terraced with Delmas stone in order to create level beds, while meandering pathways in the same stone allow access to the different areas; ranging from a wild grass/bulb garden in a sunnier part of the slope to lush, deeply shaded borders, where sympathetic water features contribute to the sense of a peaceful, green oasis. The impact of her design lies in its generous plantings – the robust use of colour and form utilising abundant drifts of both shade-loving plants, such as plectranthus species, Chlorophytum bowkeri and crocosmia, as well as sun-tolerating perennials like agapanthus and kniphofias. Softly swaying grasses, namely melinus and eragrostis, are punctuated by unusual bulbs and lend a softer, more ethereal appearance while attracting a plethora of butterflies.

The garden is water-wise as most of the plants thrive naturally in the summer rainfall but the irrigation is supplied by borehole water and after heavy rainfall, excess water flowing down the slope is collected and pumped back up to replenish a rainwater tank. Two years down the line, this relatively young garden is well established and flourishing. ‘Natasha will always deserve the credit for transforming a stressful project filled with curve balls and challenges into a happy and fulfilling experience,’ raves the owner. High praise indeed.

To contact Natasha Alexander for consultation on your own garden, contact The Flower Station Gardens on +27 83 415 7038 or email [email protected].

A cluster of water-wise plants

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’

Aloe tenuior

Cotyledon macrantha


Tulbaghia violacea

Leonotis leonurus

Featured images

Bold, sweeping drifts of agapanthus thrive under various acacia varieties. The trees are routinely thinned out and shaped to allow sunlight into the beds.


Di Barrell Production

Heidi Bertish Photographs

Elsa Young

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