An African Retreat – dining with cycads

Landscaped and constructed by: Horticulturalworx
Garden Designer: Christien Marx

This garden is on display at Garden World, Beyers Naude Drive, Muldersdrift, Gauteng Tel: 011 957 2046 or 083 997 6142,

If there is harmony in nature, then gardening must be part of the music. And here is a new garden melody, created by inspired landscape designer, lecturer and entrepreneur, Christien Marx.

An African Retreat - dining with cycads

In this intimate garden room Christien offers us an unusual and exciting mix of funky showcase design and practical functionality. For a start, the site is very small so her first consideration is to maximize the potential of the area in a way that gives us a sense of freedom and space. Many of our gardens are handkerchief sized – just enough to step out into for a brief break from office routines and tangled traffic but not big enough to become unwelcome additional work. So imagine this is your space.

The design is very simple because size is limited: essentially it’s two interlocking squares, one raised above the other to create an interesting level change and to escape from flat monotony. You see no fuss, no frills, just straight lines and clean corners. Simple but very striking because modern and minimalist can be great fun.

An African Retreat - dining with cycads

In this fresh, unusual creation, Christien has let her materials make the music. She’s started with a plain little wall, given it a coat of warm colour and made it a mini urban water fall; she’s routed the flowing water between two sheets of glass (the table top) for a whole new spin on eating out doors; and she’s finished the fabulous water feature with a short drop to a square pond set with three square planters. There can be little to beat water as the central motif for a garden: water brings movement and energy to an apparently static scene yet is accompanied by an unrivaled sense of tranquility and serenity. We are fascinated by its cold touch, by its limpidity and by its ever changing form.

The contrasts in this garden are extraordinary. We picture find cycads on rocky, dry mountain slopes: here they are surrounded by clear water and cool movement. We know cycads are needle sharp and spiky, hardy and tough, somehow prehistoric and ageless. Here they are tucked around a sophisticated al fresco dining room, set about a soft green lawn, some under a spreading tree, and inter-planted with waving wild grasses. Cycads are themselves so fascinating and striking, accustomed to be focal points and topics of discussion – they could almost be expected to jostle with the landscape for attention. Here the vibrant colours of walls and furbishings, and the tranquility of the water provide the perfect compliment to these valuable and endangered plants of South Africa: each flatters the other.

It is Christien’s intention through this show garden to heighten our awareness of a unique and precious part of our South African heritage, the Encephalartos family (cycads). Did you know that cycads are protected by law: we are obliged to register our garden specimens and to follow specific procedures if transporting or selling Encephalartos? It is also Christien’s intention to give us encouragement: we can be bold and adventurous in our gardens; we can work in small spaces and produce whole symphonies of glorious sound; we can be water wise and beautiful; we can, through careful planning and professional installation, arrive at a garden that takes little work to maintain but gives us hours of pleasure and satisfaction; we can and should have fun!

An African Retreat - dining with cycads - layout

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