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Landscape Architect Hank Lith Gives an Exclusive Look at this Cape Town Garden With a 30 Year Old Bougainvillea

Potted specimens, elegantly framed views and bespoke art define this impeccably tended garden of rooms

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By Heidi Bertish  | March 21, 2024 | Gardens

Tucked into a leafy, urban cul-de-sac, plantsman and landscape architect Hank Lith has created an emerald oasis in the heart of Newlands Village. Spanning three strips of block paving, which wrap the sides and rear of Hank’s gracious Georgian home, the largely potted garden has evolved over time.

‘The formality of the architecture called for a complementary garden linked to the interior of the house,’ says Hank. French doors and sash windows opened up opportunities for vista lines and focal points into the garden. By using high steel trellises to define areas, and Regency-style, metal garden furniture designed by Hank, just the right structural bones were laid. ‘The focus was on creating a garden with several rooms – all with a specific function and giving the illusion of space,’ says Hank.

When it came to planting, the directive was for a cool, calm mood and evergreen background that held its own throughout the year. Dicksonias, many other ferns, aspidistras and clivias were chosen for their architectural quality. For colour, camellias, azaleas, brunfelsias, wisterias and rhaphiolepis were selected for winter and spring flowers. Blue hydrangeas, perennial begonias, ‘Billy Green’ and other fuchsias, Scadoxus multiflorus‘Katherinae’ and hippeastrums were planted for summer colour. For scent – an element Hank feels is vital to any garden – brunfelsias and Murrayaexotica’s have been strategically placed at doorways and seating areas, and brugmansias hang fragrant overhead.

Homeowner Hank Lith’s travels has inspired the garden object and sculpture collection, like the Italian water bowl and Kenyan artist Stanislaw Trzebinski’s Crouching Man

Hank’s favourite plant in the garden is a pink 30-year-old Bougainvillea natalensis, which flowers almost right through the year. Photography by Greg Cox.

Hank’s favourite plant in the garden is a pink 30-year-old Bougainvillea natalensis, which flowers almost right through the year

The courtyard garden is low on maintenance and the plants require repotting only every few years. Being a shady garden, it doesn’t require much water, and the potted specimens allow for selective hand watering: clivias, begonias and ferns require little, hydrangeas more, but water does not get lost in a bed. ‘I find hand watering very relaxing and it gives me the time to examine the plants and pests, health and feeding needs,’ says Hank.

Pot Luck

Hank Lith fills us in on the benefits of a potted garden versus planting in a traditional bed

– Pots allow for special plants and bulbs that wouldn’t normally grow in a bed with root competition.

– Plants with different water and nutrient requirements can be accommodated in one small area — thirsty hydrangeas, low-water ferns and acidity loving camellias could only live side by side in containers.

– Pots give you freedom to combine and curate a very specific look within a small area.  They can be mounted on plinths to accommodate various heights and site levels.

– When not in flower, a potted plant can be put away to protect rare bulbs from pests.

Garden Intel: Add structure and visual interest to your garden through focal points

– Incorporate sculpture, bird baths and special potted plants into your garden design to create focal points.

– This will calm competing plant elements and draw them together.

– It is a useful way to draw the eye from one garden room to another or from inside the house to the garden.

Hydrangea macrophylla‘Madame Emile Mouillère’. Photography by Greg Cox.

Photography by Greg Cox.
Lime-green brunfelsia, jasmine and stephanotis waft a heady scent through the garden. Photography by Greg Cox.

Photography by Greg Cox.

The outdoor dining room is an abundant oasis brimming with potted ferns, clivias and a tall cane begonia, attached to the Celtis sinensis tree.

White Fuchsia ‘Annabel’. Photography by Greg Cox.

White streptocarpus. Photography by Greg Cox.

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