Gardens to suit every lifestyle

2009-12-11 00:00

THE flow of offerings from publishers hoping to catch the Christmas wave has surged like a tsunami and left behind on my desk a stack of books like so much beached debris. I picked through the pile like a beachcomber with a metal detector and found some treasure. A home-grown jewel featuring the work of three KwaZulu- Natal artists: a garden designer, a writer and a photographer.

A Sense of Space features 16 gardens designed by Jan Blok, with text by Lindsay Gray, both of whom are Durbanites. Photographer Kim Thunder is Durban-born and trained. The local flavour is further reflected in the choice of gardens featured — most are in this province, with the remainder in Gauteng.

According to Gray, Blok is one of the country’s best, but lesser-known designers, often described as “the most intuitive, with a deep understanding of space and proportion”, hence the title. “It’s fascinating to watch him work,” she said. “He comes into a garden, is very still and says nothing, but absorbs it all, the exterior as well as the interior spaces. Then he goes away and creates a design that is an interpretive extension of the home and lifestyle of each of his clients.”

Recent design trends are reflected in the book, including the generous use of hard landscaping, subdued colours, different textures and mass planting, with the vision of creating a panorama that allows the eye to travel easily. Blok is known for his innovative planting schemes that use a combination of indigenous and exotic materials. All this is very different from the fussy colour-burst beds of annuals I remember from childhood.

The gardens featured reflect the different climatic zones of the province and its diverse population, from the sub-tropical humidity of modern Durban through the genteel coolness of Kloof to the colonial nostalgia of the misty midlands. Several particularly interesting and unusual gardens are covered, including that of well-known Buddhists Louis and Chrisi van Loon, a roof garden with a putting green on top of an apartment block in Berea and a property in Westville that accommodates four homes for a close-knit extended family.

Thunder took the photos from September to December 2008 either in the early morning or at dusk, and the results are gorgeous. “That helped define which gardens we used as we had to choose ones that looked good enough at that time. We had a huge amount of fun working on this book, which I hope is reflected in the finished product. I also hope readers will enjoy it as much as we did,” Gray said.

She is unashamed about trying to catch the Christmas market. “It would make a great gift for someone who has everything, including people overseas. It will interest more than just gardeners. People interested in design generally will enjoy it as it’s full of ideas from which they could learn.

“We made it a coffee table book deliberately because it’s just so visually stunning. It wouldn’t be out of place in a waiting room or reception area, as well as in a private home.”

Lindsay Gray

LINDSAY Gray is the founder and principal of the oldest private garden-design school in the country, based in Hillcrest. She studied garden design and journalism locally and internationally. She has been exposed to a variety of garden-design styles and the work of several international garden designers during her career. She has written for local newspapers, lifestyle magazines and is a freelance journalist, working with The Gardener magazine. She co-authored the book, Making Sense of Garden Design, with two of her associates in 2007. She lives in Hillcrest with her daughter and a menagerie of pets.

Jan Blok

JAN Blok obtained a diploma in horticulture at the Durban campus of the then Technikon Natal, after which he worked in the cut-flower industry in the midlands and later in the Netherlands. When he returned to South Africa, he pursued his passion for garden design and founded Blok Designs in 1995. He has won many awards and his designs feature regularly in the local and international media. His client base extends to Europe. His gardens are to feature in a 23-episode TV series on The Home Channel on DStv late this year. He is married to Susan and they have two children, Ethan and Hannah.

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