Between the mountains and the ocean

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Larisa Brody’s garden on the slopes of the Helderberg is filled with glorious mass plantings and her favourite feature – eye-catching hedges.

Photographs Kosie Jansen van Rensburg

A pathway down the centre of a large olive grove takes on an ochre hue at sunset. Fleabane covers the berms where nearly 100 olive trees grow and mass plantings of, among others, gaura, spur flowers, rosemary, wild garlic and ornamental grasses such as Pennisetum orientale ‘Shogun’ and pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) are planted in-between the rows.


Larisa and Hubert Brody, their teenage children Rebecca and Alex, and Sputnik the Schnauzer WHERE Somerset West



A broad grass pathway with mixed beds on either side leads from the rose garden. These beds, framed by orange jasmine (Murraya exotica), are planted up with large groupings of Salvia leucantha, gaura and garden heliotrope, all of which provide an abundance of colour in summer and autumn.

The scent of the African honeybush (Melianthus major) reminds Larisa of her childhood. “The shape of the foliage is dramatic and I like the idea that they grow almost everywhere along the roadsides of South Africa.”

From a mish-mash of all sorts of different plants to the picture of breathtaking perfection – this is the transformation Larisa Brody’s garden underwent in five years.

“We relocated from Gauteng to Somerset West at the end of 2014 and fell in love with the property because of its expansive garden and beautiful views of the Helderberg on one side and the sea and Hottentots Holland mountains on the other,” says Larisa. “Then I met Stellenbosch garden expert Pietman Diener and before I knew it, we were busy with a massive project!” The garden makeover was undertaken in two phases.

First up was the driveway and pavement, the shade garden around the tennis court and the area closest to the house. Keeping Larisa and her husband Hubert’s preferences and ideas in mind, Pietman drew up a master plan and in August 2015, Danie Steenkamp of DDS Projects got to work. The project took about six months to complete. 

The second phase was only undertaken  in September 2018. “There was a lot of lawn and far too many different plants, especially agapanthus, in the garden. Because our borehole was poor, we had very little water and some of the plants perished,” explains Larisa.

“The garden was dark and overgrown in places. We identified trees such as American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), broom cluster fig (Ficus sur), paperbark tea tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia) and white stinkwood (Celtis africana) that we wanted to keep, but the excess silky oaks (Grevillea robusta) and cheesewoods (Pittosporum viridiflorum) were removed. The low branches of the pines were trimmed off to make them look more elegant and those that were too close together were felled to let in more light.”

Renewed and re-used

To ensure that the garden received sufficient water, a new borehole was sunk and water tanks with a total capacity of 40 000L were installed. The boundary fences, previously just barbed wire, were replaced, and the plants and grass they wanted to re-use or give away were lifted.

Where possible, the different levels in the garden were left as is, but they levelled the area around the house and built stone walls and steps. Loads of compost and topsoil were worked into the clay soil and, with an irrigation system in place, Danie and his team could start planting.

“I love mass plantings and since the garden is so huge and I like working in it myself, it was the perfect solution,” says Larisa. “It reduces my workload and creates a sense of order and simplicity.

“We retained as many of the existing plants as possible, such as the large Viburnum tinus shrubs under the pine trees. They were simply cut back quite hard to encourage them to reshoot and now we clip them into topiaries.

“I enjoy my garden every day. It provides a place in which I can be at peace after a busy day. It gives me great pleasure to sit on the stoep and watch the mountains change colour at sunset or the moon rising. I also love sharing my garden with others and seeing how much they enjoy it – like when our daughter and all her friends had their matric dance photos taken here.”

Larisa planted ornamental grasses such as Muhlenbergia capillaris in the foreground and Pennisetum orientale ‘Shogun’ with its beautiful pink plumes in-between some of the olive tree rows.

The structure of the walled garden was painted charcoal to make it ‘disappear’ into the background, while Boston ivy now provides lush cover. The olive grove is visible through the gap in the wall – it was previously a window.   

I like tackling new projects. I’ve decided I’d like to grow more plants that attract bees so that I can harvest my own honey.
– Larisa

The brick edging around the lawn prevents the flowerbeds from getting bigger every time the edges are cut. It also prevents the grass from encroaching on the beds.

Hubert said we could do anything as long as the tennis court was retained and he could continue to play while the project was underway! – Pietman

• Read gardening books and magazines – you’ll find incredibly good ideas in them. I can spend hours paging through them.

• If you have dogs and they run tracks through your flowerbeds, make allowance for this and in that way, you keep everyone happy!

• Plant spring bulbs such as ranunculus with roses, then they put on a lovely display before the roses start to bloom in October. In spring and summer, I spray my roses every fortnight with a mixture of one tablespoon Funginex, one tablespoon Aphicide Plus, three tablespoons Nitrosol, three tablespoons vinegar and three tablespoons dishwashing liquid in 10L of water.

• Paint boundary walls black or charcoal. This allows the walls to ‘disappear’.

• We apply Eco Pellets, an organic fertiliser that I buy from Agrimark, to the beds twice a year and regularly work in homemade compost. In spring and summer, when the lawn isn’t as green as I like it to be, we fertilise it with LAN. Unfortunately, we have lots of moles that make mounds on the lawn. I’m still trying to find a solution for them!

Larisa loves hedges, whether they’re in straight lines or trimmed into interesting shapes. They give the garden structure and look good all year  round. The hedges are pruned when they become untidy  or if they grow too tall and block the view.

Indigenous pambati tree (Anastrabe integerrima) was used for this clipped hedge, while Japanese privet hedges frame the rose beds. 


“Larisa’s garden was inspired by the work of Australian designer Paul Bangay. His gardens – with their traditional layout and formal elements such as level surfaces, straight lines, lawns and mass plantings – work very well with the architecture of the Brodys’ house.

“Although the layout is formal, it is softened by the trees and the exuberant and informal mass plantings, giving it a more natural look. The garden is still young and will be even more impressive as the hedges grow and the various garden rooms become more defined.

“This was an amazing project and Larisa was a dream client.  It felt as if I had helped her to ‘build’ her garden and now she can beautify it further.

Japanese privet 

I love Paul Bangay’s style but I think it’s sometimes a bit too formal. I told Pietman he had free rein with the planning of the garden but he had to keep that in mind. On my wishlist was a rose garden, a chamomile lawn, a water feature and orderly mass plantings. – Larisa

Garden rooms

Pietman divided the garden into different rooms, each with a unique character and plant selection. He used mass plantings for large sections and chose plants in consultation with Larisa for their interesting textures, colours and ease of maintenance.

1 Parterre

A parterre was created at the front door – this is a formal bed with neatly trimmed knee-high Japanese privet (Ligustrum ibota) hedges forming a pattern. Initially, Larisa planted black mondo grass and lamb’s ear in-between but they failed to thrive. Now she is trying to create diamond-shaped hedges in the middle. A simple water feature with copper pipe spouts completes the picture; the fountain was already in the garden and was left unchanged

Stone pathways wind through the woodland garden; the texture of the rocks and foliage adds interest throughout the year. 

2 Driveway, pavement garden and woodland garden 

This part of the garden needed a lot of work. The retaining walls in the driveway were constricting the roots of the white stinkwood, while unsightly grey retaining blocks were keeping the pavement soil in place. Larisa replaced the blocks with gabions filled with rubble from low walls that had been demolished.

Brown sandstone from Stonehenge Marble & Granite was used on the top and sides of the gabions to make them look as if they were constructed from rocks.  Trees in the woodland garden around the tennis court were removed to let in more light.

Shade-loving plants are grown here, most of which have white blooms – such as hydrangea, Azalea alba, Japanese anemone (Anemone hybrids), spur flowers (Plectranthus spp.) and common snowball (Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’). Larisa transplanted large wild iris (Dietes grandiflora) from elsewhere in the garden to use on the pavement. 

3 Large olive grove

Larisa was inspired to plant an olive grove when she did the Wellington Wine Walk and has decided she wants to start making olive oil. She plans to name it ‘Spook Hill’ after the upper section of Parel Vallei Road near their home. “Somerset West’s climate  is ideal for olives and we have more than enough space.  The drought at the time also motivated me to plant something more waterwise. The olive trees and mass plantings around them are all happy with little water. We have ‘Frantoio’ and ‘Coratina’ olives, both of which are suitable for making oil.” 

The chamomile lawn with fleabane and carpet geranium in between. 

A group of low-growing plants beneath a thicket of trees is always striking. It gives the trees a more dramatic look and completes the picture. – Pietman.

4 Small olive grove with chamomile lawn

Larisa wanted a lawn of chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) plants; this is one of her favourite parts of the garden. The chamomile has been planted beneath 36 ‘Frantoio’ olive trees, with fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus), thyme (Thymus doerfleri ‘Bressingham‘), and indigenous carpet geranium (Geranium incanum) in-between. This mass planting gives the orchard impact, provides wonderful fragrance and has a soft feel underfoot. From this garden room, a Viburnum tinus ‘Compacta’ hedge leads you to a stone boma where a paperbark tea tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia) with its gnarled bark adds loads of character. A large grouping of Pennisetum ‘Tall Tales’ and P. ‘Cream Falls’ ornamental grasses provides movement.

5 Rose garden and mixed border

Larisa has a beautiful rose garden near the house with four beds framed by neatly trimmed Japanese privet hedges. Here, she’s planted some of her favourite roses, such as ‘My Granny’, ‘Antique Silk’, ‘Roberto Capucci’, ‘Magaliesburg Rose’ and ‘Rina Hugo’ – all in shades of pink and cream. A broad grass pathway with mixed beds on either side leads away from here. These beds, framed by orange jasmine, are planted up with large groupings of Salvia leucantha, gaura (Oenothera lindheimeri) and garden heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) which provide an abundance of colour in summer and autumn.

Plane trees provide shade in summer; they have been pollarded (the top and branches are cut off) so that they don’t get too big for the space. 

I’m not sure I’ll plant roses again. Growing them in the dry, windy Cape is not the same as in Gauteng where it rains in summer. – Larisa

6 Walled garden

What was once an outbuilding is now a beautiful walled garden with a koi pond in the middle. “This structure was too far from the house to be properly utilised as an entertainment area and the roof impeded the beautiful view of Landdroskop, so we decided to demolish it,” says Larisa.

“The day before we were due to do so, Pietman called me in a panic to say the roof and window frames can go but the walls must be kept. He suggested that we allow the rest of the structure to be overgrown with Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and that we build  a koi pond in the middle. It was definitely the right decision!”

In autumn, the Boston ivy takes on hues of orange and yellow and in summer the entire structure is green. This creates an interesting garden room with a unique character. Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) has been planted around the walled garden, while giant trumpet creeper (Beaumontia grandiflora) and Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa) cover some of the interior walls. White Japanese anemone, arum lilies (Zantedeschia ‘Green Goddess’) and orange jasmine (Murraya exotica) bloom in shades of white and green. Water lilies adorn the koi pond. 


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December 2022 | January 2023

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