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Johannesburg Garden's

Keith Kirsten is one of South Africa’s best known gardeners.
He describes the upheaval and challenges of having to move garden

Twelve years ago, when I moved into Longmeadow, it was a large property on the outskirts of town. Johannesburg has since expanded to surround Longmeadow and in the last few months we’ve lost our view –blocked off by a massive casino resort development being built just over the road from us. So it’s time to move!

My years at Longmeadow have been very satisfying. When I bought the property, it boasted a very Eurocentric garden, a sort of attempt to create an English-country-garden-on-the-Highveld. Well, I firmly believe in the use of indigenous plant material which is appropriate to our climate and colour palette. So, over time, I’ve altered the balance in the garden so that there are now more indigenous than exotic plants in it.

I’ve also changed the structural elements to reflect South African moods: the pool area has been converted into a rock pool; we’ve dotted African pots about the garden, and the pathways are gravelled with our local stone.

It is sad to move on and leave behind something you have so enjoyed creating. But in this case I’m not saying farewell forever. The house will be converted into offices for my nursery business, and the garden will be used for concerts and charity events.

And, I must say, I’m looking forward to the new challenge. Longmeadow was a mere ten acres. My new property in the country, just 20 minutes drive away, is a full 80 acres. It’s situated right on the Crocodile River, home to many water leguaans (a swimming reptile) and is humming with wild, sub-Saharan bird life.

Inspired by what I’ve seen in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand on recent trips, as well as by my love of the African veld, I intend to create a much more informal environment on the new property. I’ll be focusing on tree planting; large groups of indigenous shrubbery and huge swathes of colour provided by plants like our very own agapanthus and exotic day lilies. Some of the property will be used to grow indigenous and exotic foliage for export.

We’ll be moving in during Autumn, and in Winter (that’s right now for those of you in the northern hemisphere) we’ll get going on the contouring of soil, double-digging of beds, and preparing holes for trees. Winter is the least disruptive time to do heavy work of this nature, as the birds and reptiles are not breeding and some, at least, of the birds have migrated North for your Summer.

But I look forward to seeing them return next year to a new, and, I hope, very welcoming and bird-friendly garden - and I look forward to the challenges and joys of the next twelve years in my new home!

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