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GARDENS AT BRAHMAN HILLS IN KWAZULU-NATAL ARE A STAGE SET FOR CELEBRATION AND MERRIMENT

One of the most significant innovations in eighteenth-century garden circles was the notion of a pleasure garden

By Heidi Bertish  | July 6, 2022 | Gardens

A dedicated outdoor space for entertainment, for which one needed a ticket to gain entry. These gardens were sites for music, dancing, eating and drinking, fireworks, operas, masquerades and folly. Laid out as formal gardens with shrubberies and waterways and dedicated buildings for performances and entertaining, they were places of celebration and coming together. The garden at Brahman hills in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands is not a dissimilar experience.

At any given time, the five-and-a-half-hectare garden could be home to strolling hotel guests, restaurant patrons, wedding parties or day-tripping garden enthusiasts. It was a tricky brief for landscaper and designer Tim Steyn, which he responded to by visualising the garden as a series of 26 garden rooms of varying sizes and compositions. The thread linking them is a palette of moody hues and a sweeping combination of grasses and perennials that now line winding walkways and open lawn, envelope circular water features and fringe wide, low garden stairs.

Moon gates form portals to various parts of the garden and are a playful nod to the area’s agricultural heritage. Photographed by Elsa Young

‘All areas have been designed for maximum visual interest, entertainment, interlude for photography and opportunities to linger and stroll,’ says Tim. ‘We considered ambience within the overall scheme down to the last detail from the angle at which the sunlight throws shadow or illuminates the garden rooms and the intensity of glow that illuminates the grassy swathes of Aristida Junciformis, Stipa Tenuissima, Pennisetum Macrourum, Eragrostis capensis, Calamagrostis Epigejos and Pennisetum Thunbergii ‘red Buttons’, backlit in the late afternoon sun.’ owners Iain and carol Buchan travelled the globe in search of garden inspiration.

‘They always wanted to create something special on their property, and I was lucky enough to be their conduit,’ says Tim. however, as we were about to break ground, the country found itself in a hard lockdown, and we put the project on hold indefinitely. Three months into this pandemic, the hospitality sector in particular mired in uncertainty, Iain took a leap of faith in what became a truly inspirational story. Without guests to care for, food to prepare and weddings to host, the 200-odd hotel staff picked up tools; and through a very harsh winter, implemented Tim’s design in just eight months. Chefs became planters, room staff laid irrigation piping and drainage – and even the hotel general manager became an expert at pouring exposed aggregate concrete for the many garden paths.

Abelia grandiflora; Photographed by Elsa Young

‘We supported local suppliers and nurseries throughout the process, giving them much-needed business, and managed to complete the project ahead of time,’ says Tim. The garden is now a masterclass in carefully graded levels, pathways, dry-packed stone walls, pergolas and water features. drifts of wild grasses, flowering perennials and evergreens in colours that mimic the Midlands sky and surrounding landscape are a haze of pinks, purples, blues and whites. Pathways lead from the garden into the hillside, a transition zone planted with 500 flowering cherry trees and through which one can wander along gently meandering, mown-grass paths. The sheer scale of the garden with its many rooms allows it to dominate the entire valley view, and as it extends into the gently rolling hills, it becomes the landscape itself.