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Romantic Interlude

With its water-lily-clad dams and waterfalls, a verdant garden strikes the balance between wild and tamed

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By | September 20, 2017 | Gardens

The most romantic gardens always have one thing in common – they integrate design principles (symmetry, scale and proportion) so effortlessly that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint where nature stops and design begins. It is this calming sense of poise that sets this sprawling garden in Blair Atholl apart.

A rock path runs from the entrance to the property up to the front door of the home, and continues throughout the garden. This draws the eye to the vistas beyond and creates a seamless flow between the home’s interior and the vast outside, immersing the house in the surrounding nature.

Part woodland, part water garden, the space was designed to be enjoyed. The owners love nothing more than to spend time in the garden, entertaining friends and family with picnics on the lawn while the children fish in the dams. ‘The grannies spend hours painting on the river’s banks,’ they say. It’s hard to believe that the established garden was created a mere three years ago from a raw piece of Highveld plain. The first thing the owners did after purchasing the property was to level the stand and lay grass, using the natural flow of the canal that courses through the property and the run-off to the bottom of the stand as a design feature. The reshaping of the land unveiled a welcome surprise – a natural dam was busy forming. This was formalised and made into a permanent fixture, which doubles as a fly-fishing spot.

A series of rocky walkways circumnavigates the garden — transporting visitors from one area to the next. The owners enjoy looking out over the lush vistas on their doorstep

Naturalistic, self-seeding grasses pay homage to the surrounding Highveld landscape

The plantings that envelop the koi pond in the front garden are particularly striking. ‘The koi fish are massive and look at home in the deep pool,’ say the owners

Although an initial garden was laid out on the perimeter where the new house was to be built, a more elaborate landscaping plan was needed, so the owners called on landscape designer Patrick Watson to help with the layout and plant selection, while Rekopane Landscapes did the installation. ‘They came up with wonderful ideas and articulated our vision for the garden perfectly,’ say the owners. As the garden lies close to a river, plants were chosen carefully to withstand frigid winter temperatures that can drop to -7°C. This, and the fact that the property is wet and boggy, restricted the plant choice. ‘The owners love trees and didn’t want overly fussy planting, so we decided on a woodland effect,’ says Patrick. ‘We filled the garden with exotic shrubs and trees that flourish in the Northern Hemisphere – especially plants from the Himalayas and Canada.’ Heavy planting was used to create the effect of an undulating open space. Flowering cherries, hundreds of rare Japanese Maples, crab apples, azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas and vibirnums, hellebores, restios and clumps of Mondo Grass were planted en masse, while a copse of cherries, magnolias and combretums was introduced to screen the property from its neighbours.

‘We filled the garden with exotic shrubs and trees that flourish in the Northern Hemisphere — especially plants from the Himalayas and Canada’ – Patrick Watson

Style-wise, the garden has evolved into a serene, romantic space. ‘We wanted to recreate the feeling of a child seeking adventure, so secret paths were built,’ the couple reveals. Adding to this sense of artistic enchantment, water-lily-clad ponds and a koi dam remind one of Monet’s iconic paintings. The garden also attracts an array of insects and wildlife, and while it’s no surprise that it looks beautiful in spring when the blossoms appear, the owners love it in autumn when the rich russet colours take centre stage. While the owners have always loved gardening, they are quick to acknowledge gardener Frans Mohahla for his role. ‘He and his two assistants Moses and Benjamin take their jobs very seriously and never leave the garden unattended for more than a day.’

Rarely are natural and man-made elements integrated so boldly into a landscape, and to such artistic effect. ‘We have created a garden that embodies our love of nature, fishing and open spaces. We never want to leave home,’ say the owners. As the trees mature, it will continue to develop into a park-like forest filled with water lillies – Monet in a truly African setting.

Massive boulders were introduced to the garden, adding to the undulating woodland effect

Japanese Maples are underplanted with clumps of Mondo Grass for secret pathways

The rockery waterfall was an impressive feat of engineering, as there was only a little berm surrounding the house on which it was built. A five-tonne crane was used to shift the massive boulders into place

A canopy of cold-hardy trees forms a verdant backdrop to the water features

Hard-landscaping elements, such as retaining walls and steps, add to the sense of contained abundance

Purple Zantedeschia aethiopica adds a splash of colour to the garden

Dams are clad in Nymphaea capensis and other rare water lilies

Grasses, sedges and restios are used for marginal planting

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Stone walkways crisscross over rivers and dams


Elsa Young Production

Heidi Bertish Text

Karien Slabbert

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