African Style Gardens
Moving to the Afro-Beat Drum
Africa is a vast continent and while each and every country has its own unique style; design ideas usually incorporate neutral, earth tones combined with vibrant splashes of colour. African decor is inspired by nature, wild animals, colourful fabrics and wood carvings – and there’s no reason your garden space can’t be too. Essentially, whatever it is that inspires you about Africa, there are plenty of ways to incorporate some of her timelessness into your own garden space.
Our continent is extraordinarily rich in creativity, materials and ideas that are sources of inspiration and nourishment not just for people overseas, but for us too. Honestly, where would western gardens be without calla lily (more commonly of course, the arum – Zantedeschia aethiopica), agapanthus, clivias, strelizias, a host of heaths and flower bulbs, cycads and Barberton daisies (gerbera)? All are native to South Africa, and all are common in Western landscapes.
In the popular imagination, African jungles, deserts and plains retain a near-mystical allure. An idea of Africa – with wildebeest roaming across the Serengeti, the dream of a photographic or hunting safari out in the bush, shadows of Vachellia tortilis against the many warm hued colours of the setting sun, bomas around fires at night listening to the roar of wild animals in the distance.
Is there such a thing as African Style? Since the time when gardening as it is generally accepted got started in South Africa, the gardens themselves have inevitably been informed by styles and dynamics from around the world. Our garden design shows a strong European influence, particularly English. You see these influences in statuary and brick courtyards that offer wonderful jumbles of herbs and vegetables. Carefully pruned fruit trees have roses or potato vines rambling through the branches, and symmetrical flower beds are often interwoven with masses of herbaceous perennials. This has changed somewhat in that people started changing over to more indigenous and waterwise plants. And with this trend, many have begun to embrace ‘indigenous style’ too.
Can we Define the Style?
We have Free State farmhouse, Cape Dutch, Dutch-Colonial, Afro-Colonial, Afro-Oriental, Afro-Chic –actually, you name the style, you can Afro it. It doesn’t necessarily mean using South African plants but then still using them in a Eurocentric design style. It’s about taking all the elements that really describe our land to us – the colours, the veld, the animals, and our amazing range of indigenous plants - and bringing Mother Africa back home.
Getting the Look
If you want to incorporate African design into your garden room, where do you start? For a modern African courtyard, a synergy of organic African textures combined with refined touches of elegance creates a relaxed, at home environment. Use earthy shades such as browns, taupes, burnt oranges and golds on the walls and your hard landscaping. Give a wild touch to your garden decor with zebra-patterned cushions, bamboo blinds or a cotton mosquito net hanging down over your seating area to give the impression you’re in the middle of the savannah.
You can create a rugged informal garden, a sunburnt savannah, with the grassland landscape as your inspiration. A quiet sanctuary that recreates a bushveld scene, complete with rietdak boma and firepit. The browns, yellows, ochre, oranges and reds of nature can be used harmoniously to create a warm, inviting space.
Consider using sandstone tiles or plain concrete screeds that have been treated and stained and are very cool in a hot climate for the floor of your patio or courtyard. Thick sisal mats work well on top of this type of flooring. Paint walls a neutral shade of beige, brown or cream, with perhaps one wall or two opposite walls painted in a rich terracotta or clay colour. Textured paints have become very popular; choose a paint that once painted on the wall, has a rough sandy texture to it. But if you want a dramatic splash, paint a wall bright red to showcase a fantastic dark mahogany mask or black and white zebra striped cushions and awnings. Black and white animal or tree photographs or original African artwork of animals inevitably makes a bold statement in any space.
A well-known – and well-loved sight – in an African-style garden is a round or oval gazebo with neat African-style thatching, a lapa. But if you don’t have space for one of these, there’s no reason you can’t use your imagination when it comes to creating some respite from the sun in a sizzling summer. Wattle screens and panels, using an invasive Australian species (so you’re supporting the environment!) can be used as overhead ‘canopies’ that don’t throw dense shade but do keep you cool.
Just experience Africa in your backyard under the cool shade of glorious indigenous trees. Like the Mother Continent herself, this informal slice of heaven is sincere, warm and cosy. As the need to conserve water makes us more aware that what we do in our gardens and homes has the potential to have an impact on the wider natural environment, we also feel the need to lessen our ecological footprint in our own backyards, and become more aware of how we fit into our native and natural outdoor spaces. Have an aesthetically pleasing design which shows your commitment to environmental issues: waterwise principles incorporating indigenous planting, clever zoning and spreading trees affording relief from the hot African sun; an encouragement for native wildlife to return to our urban environment with the creation of a garden that offers shelter, breeding sites and food throughout the year.
The Must Have Plants
Gerbera jamesonii - Barberton daisy
Agapanthus 'Blue Velvet'