The sun was just beginning to sink beneath the horizon when I first visited the Brody family garden at spook hill, on the south-western slopes of the Helderberg mountains. It was one of those magical summer days in the cape. The warm light at the end of the day highlighted the cloud-pruned hedges and velvety palette of perennials. Freshly mown avenues were being soaked a deep, glossy green. As I walked across the lawn with my camera, low light snuck through the overhead rosewood canopies and scattered leafy patterns onto the grass. ‘I’ve always had a love affair with gardens – particularly formal gardens,’ says owner and gardener Larisa Brody. ‘On one of my first trips abroad, I visited the gardens of Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany and fell in love with hedges and classical formality,’ she says.
Years later, after being introduced to the work of Australian landscape designer Paul Bangay, his use of symmetry and architectural simplicity became the inspiration for the formal garden areas immediately surrounding their family home. It was local horticulturist and head gardener at Rustenburg estates, Pietman Diener, who reimagined the family’s brief for structure and symmetry, as well as natural woodland and wilder areas, into a masterplan tailored to the cape Mediterranean climate.
The long-lined avenues bordered by clipped privet and Anastrabe hedging were the first to be planted. Pietman detailed a heady mix of fragranced heliotrope, Murraya, Gaura and salvia for the beds. A rose-picking garden, high on the family’s priority list, now fills vases with Larisa’s favourite Roberto Capucci and Rina Hugo roses. ‘I have armfuls of pink, long-stemmed which complement the roses beautifully. I love experimenting with all sorts of combinations from my garden, even just plain foliage looks beautiful,’ she says Just below the main lawned avenue, a secret, meditative space is where the family’s garden ideals came together in the form of a small olive grove, underplanted with a fragranced carpet of chamomile, erigeron, thyme and Geranium incanum. ‘It’s a truly sensory experience to lie on your back on the chamomile,’ says Larisa. ‘It’s one of our favourite areas in the garden and where we go when we need quiet time.’
The informal woodland area creates an elegant screen between the house and the street. ‘Pietman was brilliant in designing this area,’ says Larisa. There’s always one grouping of plants that look spectacular at any given time of the year’. The existing, old viburnums have been pruned into oversized mounds and now create the perfect foil for an unrestrained palette of white anemones, New Zealand rock lilies, wild iris, Libertia grandiflora, white hydrangeas, azaleas and snowball viburnums.
As one moves further away from the home, the olive orchard is where Larisa gets to play with new plants and indulge her latest plant interests. It was dusk, and the sky above the Hottentots holland Mountains a deepening, rosy pink. Looking through my camera lens over the olive orchard, the trees shone silver in the diminishing light. The faint sound of guinea fowl settling down to roost for the night, drifted through the silence. I pressed the shutter and took the final shot.