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How Restaurant owner Melissa van Hoogstraten turned her love of gardening into her second act

For someone as multifaceted and dynamic as Melissa van Hoogstraten, it is no surprise her bountiful gardens are liveable refuges that reflect a fuss-free approach

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By House & Garden South Africa | June 11, 2024 | Gardens

Melissa van Hoogstraten has somewhat of a cult status as one of South Africa’s top gourmands. Recently, she has refocused her creative spirit on another great love: crafting beautiful yet liveable garden spaces.

‘I was born with an innate creativity and understanding of food and plants, which I have developed purely through my great interest and love for both,’ Melissa says. In many ways, her journey of personal expression has come full circle. With an unforeseen change in direction in 2018, there was an opportunity to start something new. Melissa’s, the restaurant and deli chain she owned and managed along with her husband Mark, gave way to their new passion project – Plantagenta.

Photograph: Supplied

‘I had absolutely no idea or intention to develop a career in gardening after food,’ Melissa admits. Plantagenta started purely by demand after the couple’s move back to Cape Town. ‘Our new home and garden needed a lot of attention. Naturally, we lived out our love for creating beautiful spaces. People experienced the space we created and approached us to help them with theirs.’

Despite the initial uprooting, she has a no-nonsense approach to her creative evolution. ‘I went about doing what I loved. It is a great gift, in one lifetime, to live my passion.’ This new direction is a shared project of individual talent and years of teamwork. ‘Mark and I have similar design styles, and our journey has always been driven by creating beauty.’ The couple’s diverse design styles complement each other to enhance the overall vision for a space, home or garden, says Melissa of this synchronistic approach.

Melissa in her garden at home

‘My areas of focus are garden planting and style, bringing areas to life to match the space in which it exists.’ Melissa, an avid plantswoman, takes a naturalistic and romantic approach to gardening with interest and surprises. In any garden, you must consider plant selection and planting appropriate for the space to add nuance and mood,’ explains Melissa.

Complementary to this is Mark’s understanding of structure and practicalities, the cornerstone of carefully coordinated and curated spaces. Thanks to this dualistic approach, their designs reflect a sense of contained abundance.

Melissa’s combination of practicality with an innate understanding of aesthetics was nurtured by her love of all things sensory. This, along with her lifelong desire to unearth nature’s secrets, has influenced the spaces she lives in and her desire to create.

Photograph: Supplied

‘For years, I have identified plants and absorbed their unique characteristics. Spending time in nature, observing shapes, textures, colours and forms, the way plants interact and grow, is my great source of inspiration.’ Melissa’s nature-led love of mixing annuals, perennials and edibles are practical, sustainable and breathtaking.

Melissa has mindfully crafted unique outdoor destinations where the sensual and strong collide. ‘A garden should have a personality. This draws people to a space and encourages them to engage with and enjoy it, not only visually but emotionally.’

Photography: Supplied

Photograph: Supplued
Photograph: Supplied
Photography: Supplied.