Seasonal splendour
Home South Africa|October/November 2021
The flowers and foliage in Isabel Johnston's English-style garden provide colour and interest throughout the year.
Marie Esterhuyse

WHO LIVES HERE? Isabel Johnston and her Spaniel Honey, Kitty the cat and a family of Lavender Pekin Bantams

WHERE Hilton, KZN

SIZE OF GARDEN 8 100m2

TYPE OF SOIL Acidic loam soil

Isabel and Mike Johnston bought their property with its established garden and stately trees in April 1981. Forty years on and the ancient indigenous tree ferns, colourful azalea hedges and huge magnolia trees remain focal points in the garden. Mike passed away almost 20 years ago, but Isabel can be found in her garden every day.

“Mike planted many indigenous trees along our eastern boundary. Among those still standing today are Natal mahogany (Trichilia emetica), wild peach (Kiggelaria africana), Natal fig (Ficus natalensis), white stinkwood (Celtis africana) and tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida). These have grown magnificently, providing shade and a haven for many forest birds. The understorey is planted with river bell (Mackaya bella), azalea and different varieties of Plectranthus that flower prolifically in April and May.

Gravel paths wind through the woodland and Streptocarpus, Saxifraga stolonifera, fairy primula, English primrose (Polyanthus vulgaris), bluebells, snowdrops and maidenhair ferns have covered the forest floor," says Isabel.

MIXED BORDERS

The garden has changed and developed with time. “It lies on a steep east-facing slope and is sheltered from the hot afternoon sun, which means it's ideal for an English-style garden. I laid out mixed borders with an abundance of spring- and summer-flowering plants. Large shrubs such as Rhododendron, camellia, azalea, hydrangea, Buddleja and Deutzia form the backdrop for the mixed flowerbeds which are filled with roses, annuals, perennials and groundcovers that were planted to provide year-round interest." Isabel loves working in the garden.

"Even little jobs are all-consuming - you can't multi-task while you are gardening! I enjoy the variety of spaces in my garden: the sloping lawns, the dappled shade under the large trees, the woodland and my mixed borders. I love the sound of the running water as it trickles over the waterfall, the early morning sun and the dew on the grass. There's something new every day."

An English garden

Isabel offers advice on how to create an English-style border:

Plant selection

To ensure that this type of mixed border provides interest throughout the seasons, it is important to grow a succession of various plants.

In early spring, the self-sown mauve fairy primula (Primula malacoides), pink indigenous forest lily (Veltheimia bracteata), Saxifraga stolonifera, white laceflower (Orlaya grandiflora), stocks (Matthiola incana) and wallflower (Erysimum 'Bowle's Mauve') are in bloom.

They are followed by foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), Inca lily (Alstroemeria aurea) and Astrantia.

As summer progresses, delphinium, tobacco plant (Nicotiana alata), lamb's tail (Verbascum), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), day lily and dahlia take over.

In late summer, Michaelmas daisy (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) and Chinese bellflower (Platycodon grandiflorus) come into their own.

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