Big ideas for small gardens

Ever wondered what it would be like to have your garden transformed by a landscape designer? What’s the difference between gardening and landscape design?

“Landscape design involves a degree of gardening, but gardening is the last and final step in the design process,” explains Stephen Hetherington, a Table View, Cape Town, landscape designer.

Landscape designer Stephen Hetherington.

“The process of designing the spaces takes place long before choosing, siting and maintaining plants. Design is the critical factor that distinguishes a garden-by-design from a garden-by-happy-accident.”

Gardening also continues long after the landscape team has left, by way of maintenance.

But successful landscape design is not for the faint-hearted.

“The painter works in two dimensions; the sculptor, architect and interior designer work in three dimensions; but landscapers design in five dimensions – length, height, breadth, seasonal change and growth over time,” Hetherington says.

“A good landscape designer should include all five dimensions into a garden so that it functions as a setting for the buildings, a stage for the activities of the occupants, and each season has its own chorus line of interest.”

Hetherington established his landscaping company in 2004, with business partner Van der Spuy (Spuy) Burger.

They both attended President High School in Goodwood, and graduated from Cape Technikon, where Burger studied small business management and Hetherington landscape technology. Although they went their separate ways to work in Europe and gain experience, combining their skills to start a company together in the mid 2000s made sense.

Now established, their thriving landscaping company specialises in domestic garden design, installations and maintenance. Each year they can work on as many as 60 domestic gardens, all in various stages of development, from design to maintenance.

The gardens are situated from Melkbosstrand through to Hout Bay, with the garden furthest from their offices in Darling.

While their teams are quite capable of mowing grass, one gets the impression that this is no ordinary garden service team.

“Our team goes into a garden once a month or even quarterly, but we are particularly interested in the landscaping of the property and making sure the vision comes to fruition,” Hetherington explains.

“We do specialist pruning, suggest where extra plants and compost should be laid and, if the client can’t afford a water feature this year, we work slowly with them and maybe we can put it in sometime in the future.”

Raising the value of the property is an important element to the service.

“We work with people who would like to wake up each morning in a landscaped garden.”

The team works in all sizes of gardens. Among their portfolio are two gardens in Camps Bay and Parklands which had very little space.

“In Camps Bay, our starting canvas was a mess: builders’ rubble, piles of sand, scaffolding all over the place, and a large incomplete structure with relatively small urban spaces surrounded by high walls and hard structures left over.

“The home celebrates ultra-modern living at its most luxurious: large open spaces, strong clean curves, interesting textural planes,”

The client had a preference for indigenous species, and they had three left-over outdoor spaces to address, including a corridor on the south side (guaranteed to be in the shade for at least six months of every year), the pool area where the pool, shaped like an eye, dominated the space, and a courtyard area off the open-plan kitchen facing on to an imposing perimeter wall.

“On the south side we created a forest garden with a low boardwalk leading through the forest populated by tree species sourced from the nursery at the protected Platbos Forest near Gansbaai.

“The small lawn area around the pool was shaped to continue the energy of the strong architectural lines of the house, and the kitchen garden was broken up with curves flowing through the space, elevated into raised planters that step up towards the boundary.”

In Parklands, the garden began as a dismal blank patch in an urban space. The soil was barren and sandy with a low organic content, and the area was subject to coastal winds which made a garden difficult to establish.

Today, however, it is a beautiful little garden – which is also a wildlife haven – nestled in a residential complex.

Increasing biodiversity in the garden is a passion for Hetherington: “Life tends to congregate around water for so many different reasons.

“Think of great cities and natural water holes.

“In our Parklands garden, the watering hole is a stone planter reconstituted as a water feature.

“The garden around has not only become a tiny refuge for birds, small animals and creepy crawlies on the move, but a link between natural spaces.

“In this instance, it’s a necessary ‘pitstop’ between Rietvlei wetland reserve and the Blaauwberg conservation area,” he says.


Could a few landscaping tips improve your garden?

What are the biggest mistakes made by gardeners?

Creating rooms of interest will give the illusion of a bigger garden.

People spend a lot of money on plants which are planted in the wrong spot or even wrong suburb.

“Landscape designers can save you time and money by drawing up a plan and choosing the right plants for the right spot,” Hetherington says.