Trusted techniques from the experts

Four top South African landscapers share their trusted techniques for transforming a garden into a breathtaking work of art.

Is your garden everything it could be? Simple changes in the design may transform it into that elegant, private space you’ve been striving to achieve. Follow these sure-fire landscaping hints, tips and ideas from the experts…

Bold and daring in Gauteng

“Gauteng is blessed with moderate climates and temperatures that plants love,” says Anton du Plessis. “So be bold and daring…try something new in your garden.”

Classic composition

Anton du Plessis, landscape consultant and owner of The Growing Business in Pretoria, says that all components of the garden must complement each other to evoke emotion. “To create a garden or landscape you must involve yourself in a process that combines design, science, technology and art to create a space or even several spaces which are functional and aesthetically pleasing.”

Anton says that a garden should be user-friendly and provide you with a sense of security and protection. “It is also essential that your garden have a personal stamp which makes you feel good,” he adds. “Incorporate what you like in your garden, be it a white bench, the retired wheelbarrow, purple pots, a prowling lion or 1 000 white agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox ‘Alba’). If you like it then put in the space that’s ultimately yours!”

Some forethought is essential to make sure that what you’ve selected will stand the test of time.  “Trees are meant to grow old, not to be chopped down because they were planted in the wrong position,” says Anton. “As the landscape ages and matures, it changes. Full sun areas develop into semi-shade, the kids stop using the jungle gym and Dad needs that quiet spot to read the paper. Adaptability is key.”

Free State focus

Christo Coetzer says, “The climate in the Free State is one of extremes. We go from dry, hot summers to freezing cold winters. When choosing plants for a project it is important not only to choose plants that are water wise and able to withstand the heat, but also to take into consideration that plants have to be able to endure the cold winter and frost as well.”

A living canvas

At the forefront of the industry both here and abroad is the drive towards environmentally friendly gardening practices. Gardeners are welcoming Mother Nature back into the suburban garden. The right plants attract birds and butterflies or a small pond can provide a home for frogs and fish. Christo Coetzer, owner of the award-winning Pretty Gardens Nursery in Bloemfontein, says that the gardening industry in South Africa has used its resources to get gardeners to help save the environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

Christo is all for ‘going green’. “I encourage my clients to replace invader plants with non-invaders and water wise plants,” he says. “I am not keen on removing big trees and would rather incorporate them into the design than destroy them. We use plants that will lure birds to the gardens and I also encourage recycling by using screens made from the wood of invader trees.” Christo believes that designers should consider the client’s taste when laying out a new garden. “It is, after all, the client’s garden and they have to live with it after the completion of the project,” he says. “Designers have to incorporate the taste and personality of the client in such a way that it will work in a particular space.”

Coastal selection

“The warm, tropical weather of KwaZulu-Natal, with plenty of rain in the summer, makes plant choices fairly easy,” says Pam McGlone. “However, we seem to be getting far less rain in the winter, which makes it essential to choose water wise, drought tolerant plants. Indigenous is the first choice.”

Finishing touches

Like an artist adds the final touches to his work, a well-placed statue, birdbath or elegant container can provide the focal point your garden needs to draw in the eye and invite guests to take a closer look.

Award-winning landscaper Pam McGlone of Pam McGlone Landscapes says that focal points should be placed at entrances, adjacent to the patio or entertainment area or in any area of the garden that you can see from the house or patio. “It is important to have something bold in the focal point to draw the eye to the feature,” explains Pam. “In larger gardens, focal points can be included in each of the ‘garden rooms’ and  can be either water features, statues, large containers, or a special plant like a cycad or a group of aloes.

Pam says that she tries to include plants which are endemic to the area in her designs but will add some exotics for colour. “I always ensure that plants are grouped and planted according to their water requirements,” she indicates. When choosing the right accent to include, Pam says she finds the most suitable feature for the style of the garden and architecture of the house. “I suggest a few things that would complement the design but the client makes the final choice,” she adds.

Trustedtechniquesfromtheexperts4Water out west

“In the Western Cape we are keenly aware of our surroundings,” says Dave Barret. “A couple of years ago we had water restrictions that affected landscaping and only drip irrigation was allowed. New gardens, especially those with exotic plants, were harder hit than those with endemic and indigenous plants. People started to take ‘water wise’ and ‘indigenous planting’ more seriously!”

Plant palette

Careful plant selection is one of the most important aspects of garden design. Designers often describe plants as the essence of the garden. While plants bring out the beauty of the space, they can also be functional, providing shade, creating a screen to block out noise or to draw the eye, through colour, to a particular area.

Dave Barrett, landscape partner and company director at Eco Creations in Somerset West, says that when he’s in charge of a new project no plant is removed from a site without careful consideration. “Some plants may not be ideal but it is a better to keep the existing tree and, if possible, to plant a more suitable one in the area. Once the new tree is growing, you can consider removing the old one if you absolutely have too,” says Dave. He adds that this doesn’t include plants which pose a danger to garden users, or invasive alien plants like the Port Jackson willow (Acacia saligna).

Indigenous plants offer the gardener an eco-friendly alternative to exotics. The added appeal is that they use less water and maintenance is low. “Indigenous is definitely best,” states Dave. “They are also becoming much more acceptable as people become more educated on their benefits.” His current favourite is the common ‘aggie’ or agapanthus (Agapanthus sp.), an attractive perennial with clumps of violet-blue or white flowers. Says Dave: “South Africa is a water-poor country! Exotic plants have their place, but we should really be using what is around us and what is available to all of us!”

Cycasrevoluta005Top trends for 2010 from the experts

  • “Next year will see the use of industrial materials in the garden with simplicity being the key. Low environmental impact trends will remain.” Anton du Plessis, The Growing Business.
  • “In 2010 gardeners can look out for an explosion of bright colours while the eco-friendly trends and growing of vegetable gardens will certainly continue.” Christo Coetzer, Pretty Gardens Nursery.
  • “We’ll see more hard landscaping, like timber decking, as well as different levels in landscaping. There’s a move towards getting something out of the garden, not just the sweat that goes into it…like veggies in the landscape. Children are also getting more involved and there’s worm farming, making compost and chickens…a living garden as opposed to a sterile one.” Dave Barrett, Eco Creations.
  • “Gardens will be simple with larger areas planted up with one kind of plant for impact and ease of maintenance. Focal points will be striking but few, with remaining areas left understated. Green, shades of green and white will be popular.” Pam McGlone, Pam McGlone Landscapes.


  • Anton du Plessis, The Growing Business, 012-549-1856.
  • Christo Coetzer, Pretty Gardens Nursery, 051-451-1069.
  • Dave Barrett, Eco Creations, 021-842-3624.
  • Pam McGlone, Pam McGlone Landscapes, 083-778-8787.

Sources, Keith Kirsten’s Guide to Garden Plants (Struik, 1997).

Share This: