Pretty as a picture in Northcliff, Johannesburg

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Pale pink roses, beard irises that resemble a Monet painting and fluttering lavender give this garden old-world charm.

Photographs Elza Cooper

WHO LIVES HERE?Ramona and Nuno Afonso and their daughters Aurora (11) and Luna (5) 

WHERE Northcliff, Johannesburg 


Just three years ago, Ramona Afonso knew nothing about gardening. Now she cannot imagine life without her beloved garden – a romantic haven perfumed with the sweet scent of roses and lavender.

Ramona and her husband Nuno were the 2017 runners-up in Home’s Fix it with Flair competition with their kitchen renovation. Interior decorator Ramona runs a small décor business, Ruffles and Rust, and is also creative director of the company Busby Promo.

She admits that gardening was never really part of her lifestyle. “Previously, we lived in a cottage on my parents’ property south of Johannesburg,” she explains. “The only flowers I recognised when we moved here five years ago were the lavenders and hydrangeas.”

In summer, white ‘Iceberg’ roses take centre stage in front of the water feature.

The garden on this 1 500m2 property was already well-established when they bought the house. “It was very pretty but a bit old-fashioned. There were huge trees and curved flowerbeds surrounded by lawn. And about four rose bushes. I love trees but removed two tall yuccas, and replaced the huge lavenders in front of the bedroom windows with roses.”

When Ramona started gardening, she had no preconceived ideas about her garden’s design. “It just evolved,” she says. “Whenever I do designs, they take on a life of their own. I just go with the flow. If it works, it works, and I build on that. I’m not a landscape designer, so I’m learning as I go along. In about two years’ time, my garden will look different; more mature and more beautiful. After all, a garden is a work in progress...”

Today, Ramona’s garden plays a huge role in her life. “It’s very therapeutic. I work in the garden almost every day – in the morning while I drink my tea, and again in the afternoon.” A gardener helps once a week. “I plan everything and mark out what I want done. We have a borehole and irrigation system; I water each garden zone daily for an hour.”

The garden is my private space. It is a reflection of who I am.
– Ramona

A yellow ‘Lady Bank’s’ climbing rose adorns a garden wall.

A passion for roses

Ramona started gardening three years ago after joining a friend on a bus tour organised by Ludwig’s Roses. “We visited four rose gardens,” she says. “There were masses of roses of all kinds. That’s when I first saw the David Austin rose, ‘Sharifa Asma’. Its pale pink hue and wonderful fragrance was simply irresistible and I immediately fell in love with roses.

“I have created a romantic garden by planting more than 350 rose bushes in a similar way to which European gardeners do it: I covered the area around the roses with other flowering plants and groundcovers so that no soil is visible. Traditionally, nothing is planted next to roses so that they get all the nutrients out of the soil. But this isn’t necessary. It also looks too formal and doesn’t create the rural aesthetic I’m after.

“I adore UK rose grower David Austin’s fragrant old-fashioned roses,” she says. “I also love planting ‘Iceberg’ roses in the background – they show off my other plants to perfection.”

Ramona does a lot of research on gardening and plants. “I watch YouTube videos and check out Pinterest. I have a Pinterest board with a list of all the roses in my garden.”

The David Austin rose, ‘The Generous Gardener’; ‘Deloitte & Touche’; Double pink poppy & the David Austin rose, ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’.

White ‘Iceberg’ standard roses provide a showy display in this part of the garden, while lavender bushes soften the pathway. Ramona uses the white shed next to the pool for propagating plants. A neatly clipped hedge of Duranta ‘Sheena’s Gold’ frames a water feature.

I love roses; I cannot imagine my life without them. I pick roses and arrange them in the bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen.
– Ramona

All things French

A French door leads out from the main bedroom onto a pergola-covered stoep. Here, a crystal chandelier gently sways in the breeze and the pink blooms of a ‘Fandango’ climbing rose peek out between the leaves and bunches of grapes on the vine.

Ramona describes her garden as follows: “It has a French look and a rural French feel. I’ve always loved an old-world aesthetic. With this in mind, I replaced the old lawn with gravel and laid cement block pathways surrounded by gravel. Because it is cheaper, we used the coarser builder’s gravel. It looks great but I must admit, it’s difficult to walk on!”

Ramona plays with floral colours in her garden like a painter with a paintbrush. “The flowers in my garden are mostly soft shades of pink,” she says. “I have no red blooms at all; they would clash with the soft, romantic hues.”

Lavenders perfectly complement her garden style.“I planted lavender bushes in a row and trimmed them to form a hedge,” she says. “Others have been trimmed into circular topiaries. Pruning extends the lifespan of lavender plants; it’s best to prune them before they form hard wood.”

In one area against a wall in the garden, Ramona has planted only white blooms: arum lilies, hydrangeas and foxgloves with their tall clusters of flowers.And blooms in all shades of purple are grown around a large shade tree. She also has hundreds of different beard irises in lemon-yellow, peach and purple. “Bearded irises go so well with this palette,” she says. “I ordered them online from Mooiplaas Iris & Daylily Nursery in Centurion and had them delivered.

“I also love sage (Salvia officinalis) in different shades and cornflower (Scabiosa atropurpurea) in white, purple and blue. I’ve planted lime-green Duranta ‘Sheena’s Gold’ in the front of the borders and trimmed it neatly to form a compact hedge.”

‘Iceberg’ roses provide the perfect setting for one of the nooks in Ramona’s garden.

‘Sharifa Asma’ roses and ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ roses provide soft pink colour beneath the bedroom windows.

A large shade tree is surrounded by ‘My Granny’, ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Burgundy Iceberg’ roses, while the bed is edged by grey lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina).

I'll live anywhere in the world, as long as I am able to garden.
– Ramona

The seating area next to the braai area is sheltered by a pergola covered with white bougainvillea in full bloom.

Outdoor entertaining

As a designer and interior decorator, it goes without saying that Ramona has also decorated her garden to best effect. “My husband says I’m playing house out here,” she says with a chuckle.

Four years ago, she supplemented the existing brick surface at the braai area with a layer of builder’s gravel and erected a pergola for shelter. The latter is bedecked with white bougainvillea, the yellow climbing rose ‘Gold Bunny’ and strings of fairy lights. Ramona points to the many clusters of white bougainvillea blooms hanging from the pergola. “When we held my 40th birthday party here, the blooms were really impressive; some people weren’t even sure if they were real.”

Two old windows discovered at a scrapyard serve as doors under the built-in braai. “I store crockery, cutlery, napkins and glasses there for our braais. There’s even an electrical plug point and a kettle.

Bearded iris ‘Shy Violet’

A potted trimmed Eugenia underplanted with pink pelargoniums is surrounded by cerise pink salvias, which provide colour for months on end.

Chinese wisteria; Double pink poppies are beautifully displayed against the purple flower cluster of Chinese wisteria.


• Find your passion. Mine was roses and I decided to find out everything I possibly could about them.

• Group plants with the same growing requirements together – like thosethat need lots of water or very little. Some plants are very adaptable and can be grown anywhere; experiment and see what works in your garden.

• A cohesive colour scheme will help you to achieve a country look in your garden.

• I love groundcovers; they form a natural mulch for the soil (see our story on groundcovers on page 90).

• Along with masses of flowers, youcan also use hedges to add shape to your garden.

• I feed my roses with Ludwig’s Vigorosa. In spring and during the rainy season they also get Chronos (I pour the dissolved mixture over the root zone); in winter I prune the roses back quite hard.

• I control aphids with a spray mixture of 5 tablespoons dishwashing liquid, 5ml eucalyptus oil and 5L water.


Mooiplaas Iris & Daylily Nursery 082 461 6102,

Ruffles and Rust

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April 2023

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