small gardens

Working and Playing With Nature

In an era where small gardens are the norm and our footprint has an impact on the planet, there is a lot to think about when designing a garden. The topics at the top of the list are water scarcity, food security and destruction of habitats – all big deals if we want to exist in harmony with our world. The landscape design students of the Lifestyle College are taught these important things along with more practical design elements. They are then tasked with showcasing what they have learnt in the Lifestyle Garden Design Show, which runs from March until the end of May at the Lifestyle Home Garden in Randburg. This year, despite all the obstacles we are currently facing with the pandemic, the students have risen to the challenge and produced some amazing gardens with lots to see. Here is a glimpse of what’s on show:

Worker Bee

  1. Who says you can’t have it all? The ‘Worker Bee’ garden combines patio living and working from home with exotic pots of plants placed alongside an indigenous, wildlife-friendly garden featuring bat and owl boxes, bug hotels and nesting boxes. This is a multi-faceted garden that is suited to this modern age.
  1. The backdrop to this patio office is perfect for video conferencing. A simple wooden structure was made from stacked wooden planters and decorated with moss mats and tillandsia baubles. The Johannesburg skyline image places it squarely in the city
  1. The wild side of this garden has all the elements to attract birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife. Indigenous plants such as buddlejas and restios are planted thickly in a small space, as nature intended, but next to contemporary elements in the form of the water feature and the feeders for a thoroughly modern design.


It’s not often in garden design that the requirement is to do nothing! At its most basic, that is what Rewilding is all about, but it wouldn’t be much of a garden design if the students did nothing. With clever combinations of grasses, shrubs and flowers, a wild garden called ‘Realwilding’ was created for the show. A ring of poles painted with black and white designs wraps around a seating area and a bubbling water feature, cocooning a person in nature. From this relaxing spot, all types of wildlife, insects and plants can be enjoyed as we connect a modern design with timeless nature.

Pinch Me

This threaded-bar pot plant feature is a highlight in this Mediterranean-inspired garden, with its arbours of grapes, massed lavender plantings and hardy rosemary. Potted herbs tempt us in to enjoy an al fresco dinner accompanied by glorious scents and a tranquil atmosphere.


It is essential when designing a garden for children that you include fantasy and fun. The ‘Play’ garden has this in spades, and you can easily imagine children skipping along the pavers, enjoying the colour and intrigue that is evident in this garden. A favourite is a row of pink and white fish swimming on top of mounds of pink impatiens, pink and green hypoestes, fibre optic grass and lily grass.


  1. A design show would not be complete without having a focussed edibles garden. The ‘Yum’ garden features strong horizontal and vertical lines with the maximum space for growing food. The design of this garden shows us that food gardens need not be utilitarian; they can be well designed and even used for relaxing. A bench amongst the fruit trees is just the spot for this.
  1. Rectangular pavers placed in the centre form a geometric planting area, which is a creative use of a space and combines visual interest with practicality. The combination of yarrow with flowering echinacea, lemongrass and St John’s Wort is wildly attractive as well as useful.
  1. A bold choice for this garden was to design the wall to be green on green, but it just so happens that this fits seamlessly with the trends of today. When looking at the theory of colour, green is a down-to-earth colour that represents new beginnings. Very apt and quite inspired.

More is More

New plant parents will find this representation of a balcony garden inspiring. Grounded potted plants and bonsai are the ‘stalagmites’, while hanging pots and baskets are the ‘stalactites’ in this Aladdin’s cave. This garden also reflects how much interest can be packed into a small space.

Pink Sync

Going vertical with small gardens is essential, especially for those who like a variety of plants. Hanging kokedamas on a wall allows you to add variety, and choosing red flowering plants to blend into the dark red painted wall creates more drama.


Hydrozoning is something of an art – designing a space where plants with similar water requirements are grouped together in an effort to conserve water. Even on a balcony or in small garden, plants can be grouped in this manner. These Shweshwe-inspired printed fabric planters are filled with low-maintenance succulents with low water needs.

The Gardener