How to create your very own Mexican-Styled garden
When you think Mexico, you think deserts, cacti, sombreros and siestas. Or possibly adobe courtyards, chilli and pottery? Mexican architecture is probably best defined by the courtyard, the wall and an uninhibited use of colour. It is famous for its interplay of bold shapes and colours. Colour captures light and can be used as a tool to highlight a space or to define an area. Think of a Mexican festival or the brilliance of the colours of fruit in a roadside market. Then utilise those massive intersecting planes of bright colour, punctuating them with patterns of light and shadow cast by traditional overhead timber beams, floor patterns and flowing water to accomplish a Mexican look and feel.
In Mexico, be it in buildings, art, design or gardens, her people from all walks of life, even those living a simple life in small villages, invent colours using counterpoint of pinks and reds, indigo blues and plastered white to create a vibrant, happy, yet strangely calming space that invigorates at the same time. This is timelessness at its best, as this kind of architecture and style belongs to no period. You can easily frame your courtyard garden around a thematic backdrop, blending earth elements with beauty inherent in natural and colonial design. This kind of garden can provide you with a style reflective of the desert, a relaxed oasis of coastal climes or lush tropical forests.
But how do you translate Mexican design principles into an African context? Well, there is a synergy between the two cultures: ancient mythology, indigenous craft and colour, colonialism and a wealth of indigenous flora set against the natural beauty of vast landscapes. Mexican people, like African people, have delighted in the natural world and drawn spiritual inspiration from it. And as in Mexico, South Africans enjoy outdoor living. All too often we spend our lives cloistered behind high walls, so the Mexican courtyard style – for which Mexican architecture is famous − will provide a private oasis, perfect for reflection or afternoon siestas. Installing any garden is about people, so people should be at the heart of the design. So when designing your garden, make sure you include an entertainment area, one that gives you some respite from the hot African (or Mexican) sun, a roof structure not only for shade, but to add to the interplay of light and shadow.
In hot countries such as Mexico and ours, you need a place to cool down away from the heat of the midday sun. Apart from having shade cast from overhead, water is another way of adding coolness to a hot area, and water plays a major role in most Mexican gardens. Water is important as spaces are purified by the flow of water, especially fountains which are a source of peace, joy and restful sensuality Take the size of your courtyard or patio into account when deciding on the right feature for the space, as well as the material you’d like to use. Stone is ideal and you can enhance them with decorative tiles. If a pool or pond is too overwhelming for the area, simple wall fountains will work wonderfully.
Hard landscaping aside, a garden is nothing without plants. We’re so fortunate to have so many plants in our country, indigenous and exotic, that just lend themselves perfectly to this theme. Bougainvillea trained over a pergola will be a wonderful focal point and is the number one choice when it comes to setting the background and you’ll find one that will enhance or totally contrast with your colour scheme.
A Mexican-themed permanent planting should be waterwise and have culinary or medicinal value. If you’d like to add a bit more lushness, put in a banana palm, or opt for plants that embody exotic shapes such at bromeliads. Strelizias, zantedeschia, pelargoniums along with cannas and dahlias will add those hot spots of colour to a courtyard. As we have a wealth of succulents in our country, it’s easy to replace the ubiquitous Mexican cactus with aloes of our own. Bear in mind, though, that elegance means everything in its place, so the use of containers helps to maintain a manicured look.
Furniture is usually rustic wood, leather hides or wrought iron. In the evenings, candelabra will give
you light. Props to consider for your space are bright wall frescos, Aztec style cushions and brightly coloured plastic tablecloths. Terracotta pottery and ceramics painted with traditional designs are perfect for planting up all those chilis, herbs and peppers.
In our fast-paced lifestyles, there really is a need to take some time out and learn how to relax. Take a lesson from the masters of the siesta. Create a Mexican garden, where time slows down and tranquillity will settle over all. Enjoy the wondrous colours and textures, and breathe in the flowers’ perfume.