Actress and avid collector Philippa Berrington-Blew’s courtyard in Cape Town is as much a reflection of her globetrotter’s spirit and prized flea market finds as it is her flair for curating outdoor spaces and her love for nature.
Finding a family home in the city with a central outdoor courtyard where you can enjoy magnificent views of Table Mountain is like finding a needle in a haystack. Can you divulge the backstory?
We visited San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the summer of 2010. Aside from being inspired by the Hotel El Convento, with its magnificent inner courtyard, we noticed each time we would peer through the front gates of the various historic buildings, a cloistered inner courtyard would reveal itself. At the time we became enamoured with the romance of it.
We have always loved the notion of having a house where everything is accessible by foot or bike. The locality of Hemingway House was perfect for its proximity to Government Walk, The Company’s Garden, De Waal Park, and Table Mountain, which looms omnipresent and visible from the courtyard. After our return to South Africa from a stint in the US, the dream materialised when I discovered that the owner of a property I had long fancied in Cape Town was entertaining the possibility of selling. Upon arrival, a fantasy courtyard with endless potential opened up before me. The irony was that I had kept a brochure of the property, when it still functioned as a hotel, in my house inspiration file under ‘dream courtyard’. I was seduced.
Has being a collector of garden objets and beautiful outdoor pieces informed your aesthetic?
My predilection for gardens ranges from the exuberance of Sissinghurst Castle Garden to the stark Huntington Desert Garden in California, not to mention the expansive natural Eden that we have on our doorstep in Cape Town. My love for gardens began in my childhood, with a mother and grandmother with several green thumbs and regular visits to the botanical gardens in Durban.
As a self-professed ‘nursery agnostic’, would it be amiss to ask if you have a go-to nursery for interesting succulents and plant treasures?
I am ‘nursery agnostic’ in that I have a favourite nursery in practically every port or town I visit, to the dismay of my family. A car already full of suitcases becomes a cuttings delivery vehicle. One notable nursery is Fyntwa Nursery in Oudtshoorn, run by a succulent enthusiast. The Green House at Montebello in Newlands, with its marvellously derelict glasshouse, and resident Siamese, is another favourite of mine.
Your all-time top outdoor decor find?
The stone table under the pillared pergola is a favourite and our al fresco summer go-to. We consume many a meal languishing under the creeper, flanked by potted jasmine, our three pugs afoot.
How do you curate unique outdoor pieces?
It is instinctual for me. I start with several oversized statement pieces, such as large urns or architectural salvage, and let the design emanate from there. In addition, I tend to let the style of the house have a hand in dictating the tone and manner of the design.
Phillipa’s top considerations for curating an outdoor space:
Curiosity: Never lose your inquisitiveness. Give pause in whichever garden you may find yourself in, be it John Fowles’s house in Lyme Regis, England, Villa Favorita in Lake Lugano, Switzerland, or one of the many inspired gardens in South Africa.
Experiment: I like mixing things up. Never underestimate the value of putting plants and garden ornaments in unexpected places. Among our succulents is a granadilla plant, the sap of which adorns our breakfast fruit bowls in season.
Spirituality: Trees can do no wrong. They are the cornerstone of my spirituality. Connecting one’s spirituality with one’s garden is important, including one’s extended garden, which, for me, is the Table Mountain Reserve, where we walk daily. Hermann Hesse once said that trees are sanctuaries and that whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.