Our clients in Bryanston consulted us to design an indigenous, wildlife-friendly garden, with a new firepit and seating area as the central focal point. The garden originally consisted of a large lawn with relatively narrow beds against the boundary walls, a typical scenario in many established gardens. The clients enjoyed braaing and outdoor entertainment, but also wanted to make more use of their garden. Grounded Landscaping undertook to transform the garden into an inviting and welcoming space for the owners, their friends and family, as well as the local wildlife. This garden was installed over multiple phases, so what follows is a summary of the overall project.
During our initial consultation with the clients it was pointed out that run-off water from the roof of the house entered the garden via two 110mm drainage pipes, so this water would need to be dealt with appropriately. As it turned out this factor became a central feature of the design, as we decided to channel the water into a natural-looking dry riverbed, which would meander through the garden - in front of the firepit - and down to the bottom of the property.
The original garden
Having a dry riverbed immediately provided new design opportunities, including contours, rocks and bridges, and an additional planting scheme in the form of water-loving plants. Small holding ponds were added to slow the water down and to act as temporary water features, so in effect the riverbed became as much a focal point of the garden as the firepit. From these points of reference we then designed various garden zones - including a succulent garden and a grassland - and contours and pathways to access the various spaces. Two informal seating areas were added to incorporate the existing garden furniture. As for the firepit there were a number of features that were included at the request of the clients, including: a built-in fire-making box, a wood storage/table combo, a Keith Hamilton pizza oven, and space for an existing Keith Hamilton boma. In the end the firepit, with its extensive seating framed by the rocky dry riverbed in front, made for an entertaining and practical outdoor space.
The 3D concept
As with most projects, the first phase of the installation involved clearing and soil preparation. We found the soil to be slightly sandy, and working compost into it (down to 400mm) was relatively easy, albeit still labour intensive. During this process the clients managed to source some large Aloidendron barberaes (Tree Aloes) from a family friend, which provided instant structure after we'd positioned them in place.
Large tree aloes provided instant structure to the garden
Whilst our gardening team worked on the soil, our builders set to work on the construction of the firepit, which initially involved marking out the area using measurements from the design, then making minor adjustments based on the position of particular elements of the property. Adjustments such as the orientation of the firepit in relation to the house, as well as the angle of the open-ended 'arm' of the firepit, made a difference to the overall look and feel.
The initial plan for the ponds was to use them as soak away areas which would temporarily hold water after a heavy thunderstorm. To enhance this we added bentonite clay to the soil, which helps slow down the infiltration rate, thereby allowing the ponds to stay fuller for longer. Bentonite, though, is not a permanent solution because plant roots eventually break the seal, so whilst the clay served its purpose for the initial phase of the project, the clients soon reaslised they wanted a more permanent body of water, so we later rebuilt the upper pond as a solid concrete structure.
Working bentonite clay into the soil - a simple solution to reduce the water infiltration rate in this temporary pond
A few weeks in and the firepit and seating area are ready for grouting and painting
The completed firepit and upper pond, now holding water. Plus a rather sad looking Cyperus textilis that was transplanted to the pond - they do eventually recover! Note also the antique water pump added on a whim by the client. It added character to the pond, and we made it practical by hooking it up to the top-up water feed.
Flagstone steps alongside the dry riverbed and lower bentonite pond
The next phases of the garden involved concreting in the upper pond, adding a new larger pond, waterfall and wetland to the bottom of the garden, and removing more lawn to add a new succulent/semi-desert garden.
Steel reinforcement for the new upper pond. Plastic tubing filled with water is used to check the levels on all sides
Portable concrete mixers are useful for small projects
A new lower pond requested by our clients, fed by a wetland with a gravel filter to help keep the water clean
The newly planted wetland
Because of the scale of the project, and the various planting zones within the garden, Grounded Landscaping was able to incorporate a range of indigenous plant species. Structural planting was made up of the aforementioned tree aloes, along with three Heteropyxis natalensis trees behind the firepit. Additional trees included Kiggelaria africana - to attract the Garden acraea butterfly, Indigofera jacunda, two Acacias in the form of Acacia gerrardii (=Vachellia gerrardii) and Acacia hebeclada (=Vachellia hebeclada), as well as a number of large shrubs. For the succulent areas we were able to incorporate a large variety of indigenous succulents, but space was also left for the owners to add their own since they are avid plant enthusiasts. The grassland areas were planted up with indigenous grasses, aloes and bulbs, whilst a few 'exclusion' zones were planted with fruiting shrubs, including: Grewia occidentalis, Halleria lucida, Rhamnus prinoides, and Dovyalis caffra. Finally the dry riverbed and wetland areas allowed us to add more diversity in the form of aquatic and semi-aquatic plants, including: Kniphofia praecox, Eucomis autumnalis, Watsonia angusta, Zantedeschia aethiopica, Cyperus textilis, Tulbaghia violacea, Typha capensis, and Nymphaea hybrids.
The 'completed' garden
One of the reasons for the success of this garden is that the owners were intimately involved in its progress, and after completion are still looking for ways to improve it. This makes for a better garden, and it is always a pleasure to visit this home to see what's new and how the garden is developing. Because of the diversity of plants it is a space that is alive with insect and birdlife, and there is always something interesting to see. Ultimately the garden strikes a balance between functionality and plant diversity, and both the owners and the local wildlife are enjoying it.