Making Sense of Garden Design

A guide to development and evolution of a uniquely South African gardening style
Gray; Lachenicht; Walker
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Making Sense of Garden Design

Authors: Lindsay Gray, Helen Lachenicht, Sharon Walker
Briza Publications
Pretoria, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-875093-83-0
Soft cover, 21x27 cm, 174 pages, throughtout colour photos

Making Sense of Garden Design Südafrikanisches Lebensgefühl spiegelt sich in der unverwechselbaren Gestaltung von Außenanlagen und Gärten. Dieses Buch bietet wunderschöne Anregungen und praktische Anleitungen.


For most people, creating a garden, or caring for and nurturing a garden, is of far greater significance than just gardening itself. Modern-day gardens tend to be more personalised as an expression of individual lifestyle choices.

However, with so much information available on the broad subject of gardening and what to plant, it’s not surprising that many garden lovers feel intimidated and choose the route of blissful ignorance, while all the time wishing there had been an accessible way of knowing how to do it right the first time.

In this concise and systematic publication, the authors have pooled their cumulative knowledge and wisdom of their own practical experience, as well as their respective, proven teaching methods, into a book which will help the beginner and even the more knowledgeable gardener to navigate his or her way through the process of creating a successful garden.

The illustrations are visually stunning, and in their own right present a veritable treasury of inspirational ideas. Most importantly, Making Sense of Garden Design it is a companion to help you create or recreate your garden.

It offers practical exercises and hints, and is a practical, interactive reference and guide to the fundamental topics relating to planning and creating your own garden, including the basic steps in developing a long-term master plan.

Important considerations such as appropriate choices of styles and plants, water consumption, labour-saving techniques, and security – all shared within a local, South African context, which will also contribute to building confidence and pride in the development and evolution of a uniquely South African gardening style.

About the authors:

Lindsay Gray's School of Gardening was born out of her mutual love of teaching and gardening. She studied locally and internationally and is fortunate to have been exposed to a variety of garden design styles and the work of several international garden designers. Her school is the oldest private garden design school in South Africa.

Many of her students are now working successfully in the industry while others have simply relished the uplifting experience of learning to garden with confidence. Lindsay has lived in Kwazulu-Natal for the past twenty-six years and has one daughter. She is an active member of her local conservancy and the Kwazulu-Natal coastal branch of the Botanical Society.

Helen Lachenicht's passion for gardening started as a child, but it was only in the nineteen eighties, when she began spending time in South African bush, that her love affair with indigenous plants started. Bird watching gave her more insight into South African plants, and anyone who knows Helen well, will agree to learning valuable medicinal, edible or biological uses of plants from her on a mere walk to the car park. Her present garden stocks an abundance of plants, and a hoard of birds who call it home.

Her other passions are family first, dogs, her good friends and elephants. She studied Landscape Design at Lifestyle College, and while doing so, noticed the huge need for gardening education in Pretoria. Helen recognises good friend Heather Balcomb and mentor Bruce Stead as instrumental in the creation of Irene School of Garden Design. Helen lives in Irene with her husband and overseeing the creation of an indigenous dolomite landscape in Irene.

A high school teacher by qualification, Sharon Walker only became interested in all things gardening related after her children were born. This love affair blossomed and whilst the children were still very young, Sharon then qualified as a garden designer through what was then called Pretoria Technikon.

Subsequently she moved to the Free State where she then successfully ran both wholesale and retail nurseries. With a background in education, horticulture and design she then started a garden design school in Bloemfontein which has gone from strength to strength and has produced students who now work in the industry throughout the country. She runs her school together with a nursery and a SmartStone Paving business from a small-holding on the outskirts of Bloemfontein where she lives with her husband and two sons.


Creating a Garden for Life
Practical Considerations
Choosing a Style
Design Principles - Making Sense of Garden Design
Shaping the Garden
Hard Landscaping
Water in the Garden
The Role of Plants
Colouring the Garden
Let's Start Drawing
Let's Start Designing
Implementing your Design
Plant Combinations and Plant Lists
Recommended Reading, Glossary, Index & Photo Credits


Gardening must surely rank as one of the most popular and therapeutic leisure activities in South Africa. We are fortunate to have many positive aspects to our climate and a wealth of indigenous plant material from which to choose, even in our more extreme climatic zones. Why then do so many gardeners express dissatisfaction with their efforts?

Comments we most often receive from new students are that their gardens are either overgrown and lacking definition or simply lacking interest. Many feel unsure of how to use colour in the garden, while others feel despondent because of their apparent lack of plant knowledge. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Let's face it, designing a garden is not easy, especially for the novice gardener. Well-meaning advice comes from all quarters - friends, family, gardening magazines and garden centres - but it is often difficult to assimilate all of this information. For this reason, we have written this book to guide the reader, step-by-step, through the design process.

Just as learning the alphabet is a pre-requisite for learning to read and write, so too will learning the basics of garden design give you a wonderful insight into designing your dream garden. You will also gain the necessary skills to gauge the level of service offered by a professional contractor whom you might commission to design and install a garden for you.

Each of us is principal of a garden design school in a different centre in South Africa. Our exposure to garden lovers throughout the country has given us an in-depth understanding as to what people need to know, their interests and the difficulties they experience as they try to create beautiful gardens for themselves.

As we each live in a different part of South Africa, from time to time we comment individually on our different climates and experiences which contributes to the relevance of this book, not only for South African gardeners but for anyone enjoying a similar climate.

Our initial nervousness about writing our first book was soon overcome by the excitement and rewards of pooling our collective tutoring experience. We too have learnt from one another as we shared our different styles of teaching, all the while focusing on a systematic and user-friendly approach to guide our readers through the design process.

How to use this Book:

As we have designed this book to be an interactive experience for our readers, we recommend that you create your own workbook in which to jot down points that are relevant and useful to you as you work through the exercises in each chapter. The measurements you will need to take as you plan your garden should also be recorded in the workbook.

By the time you get to the actual drawing exercise, you will have all the necessary information at your fingertips to assist you with your project. Another useful tool is a scrapbook filled with pictures and photographs of gardens that inspire you. It is a good idea to update this scrapbook regularly.

Throughout the book, we encourage you to consider using plants that are indigenous and perhaps even endemic to the area in which you live. However, we are aware that there will always be areas in which plant availability could be a limiting factor and so choosing water-wise plants becomes the second best option, with non-invasive exotic plants as a final option.

Take care not to plant those that are termed "invasive" and are in fact illegal to plant. Your local nursery or conservancy will be able to advise you on this matter. We are confident that you will enjoy the rewards of gardening according to a detailed plan that you have created for your home, one that reflects your personal taste and lifestyle, and of which you will undoubtedly be immensely proud.

You will also be pleasantly surprised to discover that gardening is far more economical when using a plan. Impulse purchases become a thing of the past as you will be able to establish quite accurately the number of plants and other materials required to complete your design. "Gardeners find food for their souls in their gardens, while others see reflections of your soul in the garden you have created."

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