jack two
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The new improved Jack Holloway v.2

Designing a sub-tropical country garden

6 Dec '08 6:40 pm
This is where I want to keep a record of the development of the garden I am involved in outside Tzaneen – for my Moosey friends (obviously!) but also so that I have a record, and a reference when I write to my friends around the country and the world (quite a few of them have sneaked onto Moosey’s as guests!) and possibly even as a place to direct future clients towards to show them what I’ve done. Perhaps my own blog would be more appropriate for that, but blogs always look like blogs. I LIKE the feel and the look and the way of Moosey’s – thank you Eggy and Moosey for that!

The owners bought and remodelled the property in order to have a home base closer to town. They are farmers and tourism operators. They love their animals and keep horses and dogs. They breed two varieties of unusual dogs as well as keeping a flock of unusual sheep here; I will in due course get more info for my antipodian friends. They have five children, ranging from 17 to 3 months. When I arrived on site (note: not ‘at their home’) on a wet Friday two weeks ago it took me a while to realise that the family had indeed moved in. That was when the middle daughters, aged about 10 and 11, came running out into the mud to go and swim in the new dam which was already overflowing, and ruefully admitted that they were loving living at the new house, but they didn’t think their mother yet was…

All this to show you: a large family, a diverse selection of interests and an expected stream of visitors on a site which runs to around two hectares which I will, to a more or less extent, be involved in. Much will go to pasture grass and no more: kennel runs, sheep paddocks and the area around the new dam. I need to organise the soil preparation and irrigation system for the entire area and take a relatively distant interest in the planting of some of the grass in these outlying areas.

In the front garden, where the new pool runs the length of the house, instant lawn is one of my first priorities. Thereafter much refinement of the existing garden and the redevelopment of certain areas close to the house. That can only happen once the basic construction is complete. There is a new entrance avenue, a longer term development as far as refinement goes, which comes several 100m straight up to the gate through an avocado orchard. The entrance garden and courtyard have to be developed, and here too much is still conjecture as some walls and gateways have not yet gone up. From the entrance courtyard my ideas have already started being implemented.

Besides the living area around the pool, much outdoor living will happen behind the house, overlooking the new dam and the hills behind the property. My first suggestion was to develop a view from the courtyard parallel with the house and out into the Lowveld framed by two trees. This axis will be from where guests will approach, and is also the access route from the kitchen. My suggestion affected the placing of the wide opening in the wall, and developing this area is going to be my most intensive contribution, especially in the short to medium term. I will still explain to you at length what I wish to achieve here, because I am very excited by the combination of aesthetics, practicality and outdoor living that have to be considered in this area.

But gardening starts with the mundane: get the levels right, get the soil ready, organise the irrigation. This week we had earth-moving equipment on site – a mixed blessing in the rainy season, and although in two hours a huge amount was achieved, much digging over is now needed where the soil was compacted. When I arrived on site yesterday after some heavy rain in the night, there were puddles everywhere where the machine had been. :)
1 View through the new courtyard gate.jpg
This view directed my first suggestion - put a broad gate in here to capture the long view down an axis. That was as the wall was being built.
2 View back into entrance courtyard - kennels and stables beyond.jpg
This axis will make or break the impact of my design for the garden, because much of the rest will be typical, practical solutions to gardening in the Tzaneen climate.
3 Early outdoor living - the family sit out at the new dam.jpg
On my 2nd visit my suspicions were confirmed - this is likely to be as popular an area as the 'official' outdoor area at the pool. I captured this shot of family and friends relaxing, kids swimming in the dam...
4 The new pool takes shape.jpg
A double lap pool runs the length of the house; in front of the living room is a jacuzzi section (no need to heat the water in this climate though!)
5 Working on the levels.jpg
A large relatively level lawn will lie between the dam and the garden under the shade of a row of Australian Flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolium).
6 Earth moving equipment!.jpg
So much easier than wheelbarrows...
7 Leveling the heap.jpg
As delicate as an elephant's trunk... though I'm not certain how many of you will relate to that image ;-)
8 To get a sense of place.jpg
I suggest you open this to about 130% and then pan through it to get a sense of the view from the middle of the wall of the dam. Already the slope is planted with thousands of agapanthus to help knit the soil. What a sight in a year or two!

Home gardener & plant fetishist
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Berkeley, California, USA

What fun!

20 Dec '08 6:35 pm
It will be interesting to hear about how one gets the soil right at the beginning, rather than after the fact like me. So far it sounds like you've used large earth moving equipment to disperse materials and will next use manpower to spread it more evenly.

Lia would love the lap pools. Even if you don't heat them don't they require clorination and filtering? I doubt it more and more but there is still a chance we'll put one in too.

In such a large site a courtyard sounds like a place I'd gravitate to, especially if it is closest to the house. Seems like a place for meals and guests. It seems the more robust the plantings, the more precious an enclosed and more open area can feel. I'll be watching the developement of this area with interest. Naturally the borders and plant combinations will be of great interest as well. It will be a pleasure to hear about the developement and evolution of your ideas here. Thanks for bringing us along!
Mark in California

Q: "Do you ever sit down?"
A: "All the time until the urge to 'play' some more becomes too strong."

Canberra, Australia

20 Dec '08 10:53 pm
"As delicate as an elephant's trunk"... I like that. :)
I'm looking forward to seeing the progress of this project.

jack two
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The new improved Jack Holloway v.2

Finally getting under way

1 Mar '09 8:16 am
I can’t believe that more than two months have passed! Much has happened in that time, and as always on a building site – much has not happened.

I’m still waiting for the walls between the Entrance Garden and the Courtyard to be painted so that we can plant against the walls, especially in the Courtyard where a substantial garden flanks the approach to the front door. I’ll save the photos I have of some of these plants (gorgeous hibiscuses for instance!) till I show the garden planted.

The main axis I refer to is on hold for a while. It is an expensive development, with two lily ponds each the size of a swimming pool in the entrance courtyard and a third structure, a circular fountain, at the far end of the axis. But I will wet your appetite here! And luckily the clients are extremely excited about the concept!

The main focus to date has been on the Entrance Garden and the revival of the view from the main entertainment area – let’s call this the Front Garden.

Of special interest in this area has been the extent to which the design process has been about removing plants, rather than adding to what is already there. To begin with I was quite unaware of the spectacular view from the terrace – which now includes a barbecue and will soon include a roofed area – westwards towards the mountains. ( My farm, incidentally, lies somewhere above the middle of picture 10.) So we have been removing plants that break into that view. In addition there is a spectacular Flame of the Forest Tree (Spathodea campanulata) to the left of the gate into the Courtyard. As you approach up the 200m drive, I want an open view onto its massive trunk, and this also meant moving some plants. In the process we have consolidated some messy planting, grouping the bamboo palms and the poinsettias instead of having them dotted about. Much of the planting in the Entrance and Front Gardens – in fact all to date – makes use of existing plants, including almost 1000 plants dug up and moved out of harms way before the building started.

The clients’ youngest daughter is about four, a beautiful and delightful child, both ultra feminine and a tough little farm girl. Using Strelitzia nicolai, which looks somewhat like a giant banana, I have created a perfect circle 2m in diameter in the middle of a shrub thicket (but not thick enough) where, when she gets back from a visit to her gran, I wish to surprise her. She must come across, in between all the various shrubs that make up this area, a little house, complete with a seat and an old fire grate in which the embers are represented by red begonia flowers. I include a picture where the position of the 10 plants that will make up the walls have been marked – on Monday I will photograph the finished product...
1 Very much a building site still.jpg
A mid-Nov pic to remind myself what has been achieved; the house still unpainted, the courtyard wall under construction and only the foundations of the garage and kennels block in the foreground. And acres of mud...
2 Swimming pool under constuction.jpg
The view from the opposite side. Picturing this area was difficult at that stage, what with piles of excavation and the level of the terrace not yet established.
3 Now there's a pool.jpg
A 20m double lap pool with a spa sitting area in the foreground; a lovely area for the family. Beyond a lawn on the far side more beds await development under the trees.
4 Working out the layout of the lily pools.jpg
The pools are octagonal with rim-flow overflows at either end, making the whole lozenge shaped. Each is over 6.5m (21.6ft) across its longest end. Below lies the view, above the parking area, paving to the right and the side wall just off paper left.
5 Doubly helping me cut a template.jpg
This one, besides showing the work involved, is to help give a sense of scale - the pool looks quite small in the next pic!
6 Laying out the pools.jpg
The template has been moved from the closer to the further position, the outline marked with metal droppers and green twine.
7 First steps.jpg
From chaos and neglect we shape new beds under the trees in the Front Garden. Notice my freshly monographed ancient wheelbarrow - got to keep track of one's tools!
8 Working on the entrance.jpg
The garden starts beyond the security gate, with a further gate into the courtyard beyond the trees. Note the beautiful example of a Flame of the Forest, which I wanted to accentuate by removing shrubs in front of it.
9 Getting the feel of the swimming pool terrace.jpg
As the terrace took shape I started planning how to approach this area. Note how the many plants break the view towards the mountains.
10 Clearing the view.jpg
Already much improved here - but watch out for next week's photo, with the tree cleaned up and all planting adjusted!
11 Grouping.jpg
I've never before so consciously grouped plants. Here massed bamboo palms help create a new and more solid backdrop to the entrance garden.
12 Start of a fairy garden.jpg
A real 'before' shot of a spot I hope children and grandchildren will choose to play in...

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