There’s no certainty in gardening. That’s what I love about it!

I think garden design is an ephemeral art. I aim to create layered effects with plants, wood and other elemental materials, but the force of nature is often stronger than my will and I am constantly reminded that I’m merely a pawn on nature’s chessboard.

 

Potager recently designed a garden which appeared to be a simple project, yet proved to be a test of our mettle. The passing of years had made this garden a Fort Knox of sorts. Yuccas, palms, bamboo and adamantine soil had carved its way into the foundation of the earth making it nearly impossible to excavate tenacious roots and unyielding, compacted soil.

 


The garden before bedlam struck
The garden before bedlam struck

 

Day after day, my team of sinewy, young men swung their pick-axes, hauling 80-tons of soil and debris out of the garden. It was hard labour – no cranes or front end loaders – just back-breaking-man-power.

 

The existing garden was raised a metre above ground level  and we needed to remove the tiled retainer wall and build another retainer wall to protect the foundations. We waterproofed and painted all the boundary walls in a gorgeous Plascon shade of French Clay and cut electrical chasings into the wall pillars. New irrigation was laid prior to planting. 

Finally, we were left with bare ground, newly nourished with loam and compost.


We created extravagant plantings of clematis, lavender, petrea, durante, leopard trees (caesalpinia ferrea), salvia evolution, iceberg roses and David Austin’s fragrant Sharifa Asma roses. The end result - a gentle canvass of ivory, chartreuse, blush, Byzantium and absinthe.    

5 days old
5 days old

We built a water feature from bricks and concrete, with curvaceous rusted spouts. We transformed mundane store-bought lanterns into retro antiquities. We planted rolls of fresh Kikuyu grass and made a statement bed border using American oak sleepers. 

We did a whole lot more including a vegetable garden and balcony container garden but that's a story for another day. 

After the storm comes the calm

Have you ever been rushed off your feet? Thousands of things to complete. A big deadline looming, and the myriad details that make up a day. And then its all over and you are left feeling drained. Depleted. I felt like that after our Pop Up Shop was over. But, as always there is calm after a storm and yesterday together with Zwele, we planted a soothing garden. A garden designed for reflection and quiet.

 

Gardening is my escape. My chapel. I believe there is a subtle witchery in nature, if you yield to it, it will steer you right.    

 

Africology Spa, The Maslow Hotel
Africology Spa, The Maslow Hotel

Renchia the owner of Africology Spa at The Maslow Hotel in Sandton asked us to design a container garden that evokes all the senses. She wanted a garden that would provide a rush of well-being, a sense of healing and being in tune with nature. The plants are for the most part fragrant and edible - strawberries, pink perennial basil, red reuben basil, chocolate mint, pineapple sage, lavender, chamomile, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm and lemon verbena (an old fashioned herb and my favourite). We also planted mission olive trees and eureka lemons and bearss lime trees. 

 

Planting in the rain was a welcome relief from the heat
Planting in the rain was a welcome relief from the heat
Gladys Hepburn Bougainvillean- true pink
Gladys Hepburn Bougainvillean- true pink

Nature in design

I was watering my garden on Sunday morning. The sun was shining in the cool blue sky. The lavender was alive with blossoms. The heavy buds ripe with fragrance and honey bees drunk on nectar. Art? 

 

In nature I think design is everywhere. It's in the intertwining of branches. Vivid colour against a sandy backdrop.The bright lime green of Durante alongside the blueish grey of lavender leaves. . 

 

 

It's in the first spring buds of a nectarine tree. A cymbidium orchid growing wild in the garden. The ornamental foliage and yellow flowers of tatsoi. And the white blooms of round peas. 

 

The tatsoi is growing in front of passion fruit. I bet you thought it looked like a dagga plant (haha). 

I believe we at Potager, take the beauty of nature and transform it into functional art. Our container planters are made from fragrant cedar or we re-purpose pallets which are often made from old oregon planks, and turn them into lovely planters. 

 

That's exactly what we tried to do at Decorex this year. 

Potager cedar vertical wall planter
Potager cedar vertical wall planter
Potager oregon ladder made from old pallets
Potager oregon ladder made from old pallets

Recycling pallets into loungers

This week John and Alex, my carpenters, have been sniggering behind my back. I might not understand their language but I can read their faces and I know distain when its directed at me.

 

It all came about when I asked Alex to make me a double lounger made from pallets.

 

Alex loves the smooth, almost velvety texture of ash, rosewood and teak. Magpie John likes anything new and shiny, so I shouldn't have been surprised when they looked at me aghast when I showed them my drawings for a recycled pallet pool lounger that a client had commissioned. 

 

At one stage during construction Alex even suggested completely dismantlng the pallet, sanding each plank, to make them even and then putting the whole thing together using the pallets. I booed this idea.

 

I adore recycled pallet furniture. I think its funky. fun and enormously inexpensive. What's not to like? But, I can understand Alex' leaning towards something crafted from beautiful, fragrant new wood. 

 

Check out the end result and let me know what you think.

 

 

Stringing together an indoor hanging garden

The same client that wanted the planters outside her shopfront also wanted hanging moss balls inside her shop. 

 

After a little investigation I discovered that moss balls originated in Japan and are called Kokedama. I've seen articles about hanging gardens in House & Leisure and Elle Decoration but I never thought I'd make one.

 

I spent the weekend constructing mud balls, plastering them with Irish moss and inserting small rooted succulents and orchids into the round moss balls. It was a messy job - some parts were fun, other parts frustrating as moss ball after moss ball collapsed. Even M had a go after watching some of my more dismal failures.

 

Here are a few of my first attempts. I've hung them in my own home as they certainly don't rival Fedor van der Valk's gorgeous designs. But, I like them. 

The Air is filled with Possibilities

At every turn I see possibility. I feel as if spring has been injected into my veins giving me a renewed sense of hope. It's as if I can see everything clearly. Some of this rejuvenating power is the result of having just planted one of the most beautiful vegetable gardens in a secret street in Joburg's Parktown Ridge suburb. The other reason is that I have finally given up on a 16-year relationship with a client. A weight has been lifted from my shoulders and now I can concentrate on what I love most - creating vegetable gardens.

High up on the ridge, overlooking the cities Jacaranda lined streets and the Westcliff Hotel, Potager created an inspired vegetable garden. 

 

Beneath an orchard of plums, peaches, pomegranites and nut trees, stood an empty Potager garden. Potager's brief; to transform the area into a productive vegetable garden. 

The sun shone down on us for three days as we toiled in the smelly, richly fertilised soil. It wasn't an easy task as we had to transfer all our soil and over 1000 plants down 37 flights of stoney steps to the Orchard terrace. But the team put their backs into the task and the end result - Gorgeous!

Every planter got new soil and porous lining
Every planter got new soil and porous lining

Companion planting enhances the flavour of vegetables, deters pests and attracts beneficial pest controllers and pollinators. Basil, tomatoes, parsley, asparagus and marigolds are great companion plants. 

Despite the back-ache, relentless heat and sweat its soothing work. A labour of love. 

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A cacophony of harmony

It’s been a while; I’ve been busy with words and my first love, creating gardens.


It is difficult to express my love of gardening as it is almost a surreal experience. I completely shut out the world. Only the soil, plants and wood have any meaning for me.

 

As I run my fingers through the organic soil, crumpling clods and smoothing it into the Potager wooden planters it’s like a blank canvas.  Ready. Waiting to become something more. Something fragrant. Beautiful.

 

Potager gardens are what I think joy looks like – emerald green spiny chives, lush red oak lettuce, the purple foliage of cabbage, golden oreganum, spicy coriander, sweet smelling geranium, scarlet leafed mustard, pink basil – a cacophony of harmony.

 

 

Potager gardens look really good anywhere, but I think they look best when they brighten up an empty patio, giving life to an area.

 

In this case, I'd have prefered to lay down some gorgeous bronze stones, to completely cover the bricks - giving it a French feel. I think it would pull the whole design together. But, as you can see its still beautiful.

 

We only planted this garden on Friday, so it's brand new. Imagine.... in a month it is going to even better. 

 

 

 

Rose scented geranium, rocket, chives, pink perennial basil
Rose scented geranium, rocket, chives, pink perennial basil
cabbage, Italian parsley, dill, globe artichokes
cabbage, Italian parsley, dill, globe artichokes
Florence fennel, oreganum, spinach, coriander and bush timbavati beans
Florence fennel, oreganum, spinach, coriander and bush timbavati beans
Thyme, red giant mustard, Italian parsley, sage, red oak lettuce
Thyme, red giant mustard, Italian parsley, sage, red oak lettuce

Kitchen Garden

Oscar is here sniffing out the wild rocket. It’s like a drug. Its pungent aroma makes us both high. We often tussle (or is that stumble) on the way to the kitchen. It grew like wildfire in December and I had to uproot quite a bit of it. I've introduced leaf lettuce, basil and salad rocket two weeks ago. Here you’ll see its is still tender leafed. Multi-coloured. Unusual but surprisingly pretty. It will grow quickly. 

 

Rocket (Eruca sativa)
Rocket (Eruca sativa)

I’ve been writing copy for hours and I’m no longer making sense. Edible plants make sense. And the smell of freshly squeezed lemons. And the friendship of my puppy. And the smell of spearmint after the rain. 

 

Earthy
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

 

I used some of the leaf lettuce, newly planted rocket and basil in a salmon salad last night. And some ripe, juicy roma tomatoes. I kept some of them aside to make roasted red bell pepper and roma tomato soup lavishly laden with lovage. Lovage. Don’t you just love the word? I’m told the French called it luvesch which explains its English name, love-ach, meaning love-parsley. The origin of words always pleases me. 

Lovage  (Levisticum officinale)
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

4 The Love of Wood

As you know boxes are my business.

I love wood. Its texture, shape, grain and smell.

 

On Monday, I was at Silverton Houthandelaars  collecting some cedar wood planks. If you’ve ever visited a timber supplier you’ll understand my fascination. This huge warehouse is filled with wood, from Pink Beech to Rhodesian teak to white oak. Mist fans cool the stifling warehouse, high-powered saws whine as they slice into timber and aromatic wood peppers the air.

 

The long drive home from Pretoria to Johannesburg in the traffic was less arduous than usual. David Gray belted out Feels like lightning running through my veins. The pungent fragrance of cedar permeated the Prado as I munched on nougat (my replacement solution for Marlboros).

 

Cedar is an insect and rot-resistant wood – great for planters – and it weathers well.
Cedar is an insect and rot-resistant wood – great for planters – and it weathers well.
Chunks of Cedar which we use to make bases for our planters
Chunks of Cedar which we use to make bases for our planters

Potager Garden Design

In the post, Scent & Sensibility I told you about a client wishing for a vegetable and herb garden outside his kitchen door, in the courtyard used only for hanging washing and feeding his labradors.  

 

Here are the results. 

And, this is the end result. I think it transforms the empty courtyard beautifully. 

Bright Lights Spinach, Oregano and Red Poem Lettuce
Bright Lights Spinach, Oregano and Red Poem Lettuce
Baby Cabbage and Artichokes
Baby Cabbage and Artichokes
Black Beauty Egg Plant planted to hide unattractive gas bottles
Black Beauty Egg Plant planted to hide unattractive gas bottles

R&R

I found two forgotten-about Rupert and Rothschild wine boxes in a cupboard.

 

They make lovely containers for growing lettuce.

 

not just delicious to drink.
not just delicious to drink.

A Potted Garden

I recently redesigned a neglected and unattractive courtyard in Bantry Bay, Cape Town.  The owner asked me to use old pots that she had lying around.

 

I love to make a silk purse from a sow's ear. 


 

Lavender & Explosive Ember Chilli's
Lavender & Explosive Ember Chilli's
Black Velvet Petunia's
Black Velvet Petunia's