A labour of love


Visitors to this year’s Kloof Rotary Ann’s Open Gardens are in for a real treat. The award-winning one-acre fun and quirky space that is the joy of Julia and Arnold Vermaak, is one of the six spectacular gardens on show. We took a drive up the hill to bring you a sneak peek.

Located on Meadow Lane in Kloof, this inspirational ‘old Kloof’ garden invites you to meander through an investment that has been professionally landscaped and lovingly nurtured by its owners, evidently with great joy.

Julia’s energy and personality is reflected in the garden, as is her desire for peace and tranquility. It’s a lush oasis of calm and remembrance. Boasting the original structure of very large old specimen trees and flowing beds that follow the existing slope of the property, this garden was by no means an easy one to transform.

“I lived in the bush for many years and I know how to grow veggies, but just not how to grow flowers.”

“I tried to do it on my own, but with little success,” laughed Julia, who’s not shy to share that landscaping all things pretty does not come naturally to her.

“A year before I retired (about 2010), I told my husband that we needed to do something about the landscaping. Much like our home, which has a kind of Zen flow throughout, I wanted structure and texture and colour, and most importantly, I wanted the garden to flow, not to look like the fruit salad I’d created out of it,” she said laughing.

With a monthly budget, which meant things would have to be done bit by bit, Julia enlisted the help of renowned local landscaper Judy Panton-Jones from JPJ Landscapes, who has been extensively involved in the direction of this garden ever since.

“Julia’s brief to us was that the garden had to have an informal and natural approach. Think curved beds with special features that included stop-off points, water features, a gazebo, garden art and sculptures. The planting combination had to be unconventional, with a sense of incredible adventure and journey moving from one room to the next,” Judy chipped in.

The first year of redesign was spent removing alien invasives. As the third owners of this home, the garden had seen some years of growth, and more than 20 four-ton trucks were used in the initial clean-up process.

“Every area of the garden needed a little TLC,” said Julia, “but it was good to tackle each area one at a time.”

“You know what they say about patience…  Thankfully, there was a lot of plant material that could be split, so we managed to keep some costs down.”

The redesign of this garden and its walkways entices you through a space that is hugely relaxing. The basic plant palette has been repeated in large sweeps of groundcovers throughout the site to create a basis for a diverse range of flowering shrubs, fillers and bulbs. The front entrance starts with an interesting invitation to meander through ‘different rooms’ that link the garden, culminating in a very fun and quirky kitchen garden.

“Due to a lack of light in certain areas of the garden, we had to uplift the trees and pollard the canopies, which have had a positive effect on the understory growth in all the beds. Our approach was to have 100 per cent groundcover coverage (zero visible soil) in bed spaces to prevent weed invasion, and we certainly have achieved this,” said Judy, adding that emphasis was placed on creating a low-maintenance and self-sustaining garden.

“There were some flowering shrubs that did and still do require monthly feeding (weather dependant) to produce an abundance of high-quality blooms but overall, this garden process has been an incredible adventure for us and the Vermaaks, and there have been many interesting anecdotes along the way.”

“Without a doubt Julia’s personality and her vision have paved the way that has given this garden an ‘out-of-the-box’ feel,” adds Judy.

“The main focus was to maintain the original design and philosophy of the garden and fulfil it with a professional maintenance programme. From a landscape design point of view, this garden will continue to develop over time. There are many reverse views and wonderful vistas that open this garden up, creating incredible perspective and depth.”

It goes to show that hard work and teamwork always pay off, as the determination, vision and passion from everyone involved has resulted in the garden receiving the prestigious Gold SALI Award for Landscape Construction with In-House design.

“I’ve learnt so much over the years we’ve spent transforming our garden. Located in our garden are a handful of vases, statues or stone carvings, all of which are of huge sentimental value to me. They are pieces I will not part with.”

And as for my favourite part of the garden, this is a little bench overlooking where a trampoline used to be (once an area that brought lots of joy and fun). It faces a sturdy yellowwood tree that was planted by previous owners in memory of their son. This was not something I wanted to remove because of the memory associated with it, and also, I’m a big believer in angels.

“My dad, rest his soul, also left me some money after he died in 2010, and I wanted to use it wisely, so we had a special water feature made near our pool as a tribute to him,” says Julia as she glances, sentimentally, at this statement piece.

Creating reverse views within her garden was very important for Julia, so that no matter where she walked or stood or sat, there would always be something pretty or exuberant or sentimental looking right back at her.

“Once the garden had been established for the most part, I felt that I needed one last little piece of solitude, which is my angel room – a small space in the corner of our garden, without electricity, where I can sit and read or do my breathing exercises or simply just unwind and let go of any negativity. I’m not a city girl. I love a country life. I wanted nature and peace on my doorstep in the midst of this beautiful suburban neighbourhood, so that I could have my own lush, but landscaped place of solace. I’m hoping those who visit our garden, during this year’s Open Gardens, will feel this too.”


Open Gardens Info

Kloof Rotary Ann’s Open Gardens takes place over the weekend of 5 and 6 October. Highbury Centenary Hall is the venue for tea and crafts, and there will be an inspiring selection of art, flowers and plants on sale. Tickets are R60 each (children under 12 enter free) and available at the entrance to each garden, and before the event at Kloof Village Mall Super Spar and Watercrest Super Spar. All gardens are wheelchair friendly. Details: Contact Wendy Scorgie on 083 661 7337 or visit www.kloofrotary.co.za