WILD AND WONDERFUL
An indigenous mountainside garden in the Cape
With its informal paths and indigenous and water-wise plants, this garden blends into the surrounding mountainside
When renowned artist
Nola Muller isn’t surfing on her long board, you’ll find her either painting in her studio or working up a storm in her garden in Noordhoek, Cape Town. She and her husband Gianni have lived on this steep property for 12 years. “Fortunately,” says Gianni, “Nola knew just how to go about designing this garden as our previous homes were also on rocky mountain slopes.”
Both Nola and Gianni have an affinity with nature and have spent hours hiking in the mountains, so using the natural local f lora was a foregone conclusion. So too was the use of natural elements like driftwood, gnarled and knotted stumps, rocks, stones and pebbles, all of which Nola loves to collect. “Gardening is a form of meditation for me. It keeps me in touch with nature, and as an artist, I’m inspired by the forms and colours.
It’s a perfect extension of my creativity,” she says.
Situated at the top of a steep terraced slope, the house looks down onto diagonal paths, laid out by Nola to follow the natural contours of the lower garden. Flat, roughly hewn rocks, recycled pavers, pebbles, old bark chips and chipped wood were used on the paths which, edged with old logs, give structure to the garden. They included a tiny strip of buffalo grass, hidden behind the garden shed, for their dog.
Initially, Nola grew plants such as vygies, pelargoniums, daisies and plectranthus from slips. But gradually she replaced these with more permanent shrubs and perennials. They include restios, ericas and members of the protea family that f lower in winter, and pincushions and leucadendrons as well as serruria, which all f lower in spring.
In addition, there are smaller, interesting plants like struthiola, buchus, lobelias, helichrysums and euryops many of which now selfseed. The pinky blue lobostemon or agtdaegeneesbos, not often seen in gardens, is testimony to Nola’s skill at working with nature. As a result of the drought she’s also planting more indigenous succulents.
A no-nonsense gardener, Nola follows the advice of her late brother Richard Muller, a well-known landscape gardener in Cape Town. He advised her not to mollycoddle plants, but to bring them up tough. When planting she digs a hole just a bit bigger than the container and doesn’t add any compost; if she’s planting where there’s a clay layer, she’ll dig through it so the holes drain freely.
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Rustic paths lead down to a little shed in the lower part of the garden. Nola arranged pebbles among an array of water-wise fillers like gazanias, Plectranthus neochilus, purple-blue felicia and purple osteospermum. Adding to the rustic look are sculptures of driftwood placed in strategic places.
As the garden has matured, she’s been quite ruthless in removing woody and poorly performing plants. This not only has a rejuvenating effect, but opens up the garden so one can see through it. It also encourages self-seeders to germinate and gives Nola space to either plant more of the plants that thrive, or try something new.
For winter colour, she relies on proteas, ericas and aloes. She plants the former two for the sunbirds; the latter are so sculptural they are stunning even when not in f lower. Nola loves the March lilies that appear every year without any fuss; if the leaves get tatty she simply trims the ends off.
Although Nola bemoans the fact that a mole has taken a liking to her garden, she derives great pleasure from sharing it with birds and other creatures like frogs and lizards. Her latest visitors include a delightful vlei rat, which doesn’t look like a rat at all, and carpenter bees that hum a tune while making holes in an old stump.
Her relationship with her garden is a two-way street, and many of the plants feature in a collection of cameos she has painted. THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:
Beyond the pincushion protea Leucospermum oleifolium, are diagonal paths where weathered wood chips are confined by old poles. ‘Tottum’, a pincushion protea, thrives on the terraces of the steep, west-facing slope below the house. Old stumps, rocks and sculptured roots reinforce the natural look and give the garden structure. Serruria trilopha, a trident spiderhead is just one of the more unusual plants in her garden.
THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Aloe rupestris. This intriguing natural sculpture of a tangle of roots and stems is the focal point on the top terrace. ‘Mardi Gras Tricolour’, a selection of Leucospermum erubescens, produces clusters of smallish flowers that change colour and shape as they mature, extending their flowering time.