5 Reasons Why You Should Invest in Your Garden

Owning a home is that never-ending list of things that need to be repaired or replaced. And just when you think you’ve conquered the list, you put a foot through a rotten floor board, the garage door breaks (AGAIN) and the wall you swear you painted “just the other day” starts to flake. This seemingly-circular process is often frustrating. On the other hand, it can also be extremely rewarding as your time, effort and money starts to add value and improve your living space. The age-old question though is “is it worth spending X amount to fix this?” and particularly “do we fix the roof, renovate the bathroom…or put in a pool?”. So, what if I told you one of the areas that you should definitely be focusing your money is your garden? Here’s why:

1. Increase the value of your property up to 20%

No, I didn’t just make that up. Studies have found that the impression of an outdoor garden can define a potential buyer’s initial feelings towards a house. Furthermore, the investment into renovating an outdoor area has seen dramatic increases in the selling price of up to 20% of the original estimate. Something as simple as laying new lawn and adding some splashes of colour into a garden bed can dramatically change the perception of the property. For long term investment, the introduction of elements such as decking and braai areas create the illusion of more value beyond the 3 bed, 2 bath scenario. That being said, the design of these elements is critical as a bad design could detract from the value while a good design can improve it by responding in an appropriate aesthetic and functional manner. Just remember that the cost of a professional design might seem expensive, but it’s just a tiny drop in the overall cost and future benefit.

2. Increase your living space

South Africa is blessed with a climate that provides us with an abundance of sunny days and warm evenings, making our outdoor spaces the perfect extensions to our indoor spaces. By investing in these areas, we can create outdoor rooms, spaces to braai and entertain, spaces for children to play and spaces to sit quietly and read. One simply has to type “Outdoor living” into Pinterest and begin to yearn for our own fire pit or pergola draped with fairy lights where we can breathe in fresh air and stare at the starry sky. Yes, it all sounds very romantic, but the benefits of creating these spaces can maximise every inch of your investment.

3. Benefit the environment

What if we all saw our gardens as tiny biomes with a unique set of living organisms and environmental processes? From providing trees for the birds, to planting flowers for the bees, the garden’s environmental potential is endless. In South Africa we are blessed with numerous indigenous plants whose roles in combating air pollution are incredible. Spekboom for instance has the ability to capture 4 to 10 tons of carbon per hectare – that’s 100 times more than a Pine Tree! How’s that for your return on your investment? We also need to see our gardens as part of the larger environment and the role each property has in absorption of water back into the ground water table, the impact on bird flight paths and other aspects such the control of invasive alien species. With that in mind it’s easy to see that our investment in our gardens isn’t just for our own benefit.

4. Improve your quality of life

Did you know that being in positive outdoor spaces has proven to reduce stress, improve creativity, fight depression and reduce anxiety? Not to mention the physical benefits of breathing cleaner air and the benefits of sunlight on blood pressure and our immune system. Numerous studies have proven that humans are simply not meant to be indoors all the time – we need and crave the outside air. That means that by investing in a garden space we are not just creating a pretty rose garden to be admired from the kitchen window, but a space that has the potential to improve our physical and emotional states. Add to this the benefit of social spaces to connect with friends or play areas away from indoor screen time and we can begin to see why our gardens provide such important places in our daily lives.

5. Reduce your grocery bill

No, I’m not saying turn your entire garden into and urban farm, but no matter how big or small your garden is, an investment into a few pots of herbs or even a large raised vegetable garden can go a long way to reducing the amount of fresh produce that we buy. There’s nothing better than being able to go outside and pick a fresh bunch lettuce for a salad or rosemary for the braai. What better way to fill your garden with greenery than with something that you can actually eat? Advice on where and what to plant is always helpful in this case to prevent a case of “crop failure”, but the benefits of having organic nutrients and rich, flavourful produce are definitely worth it.

So maybe now is the time to go outside and begin to imagine the potential for your garden. I can guarantee you that it will always be money well spent!

sketch-plan Rose Buchanan Landscape design

Landscape architecture – what happens when an architect embraces the landscape

“We lost the tender because we don’t have a landscape architect”. Sorry, a what? I stopped my notebook doodling and immediately recovered from my 8am Monday morning stupor. What the hell was a landscape architect? How had I studied architecture, enduring 5 years of creative awakening, sleepless nights and various model-building severed finger tips and NOT heard of landscape architecture? My immediate associations included something along the lines of a Heidi-inspired backdrop complete with rolling hills and mountain goats…with…architecture? How?

Back at my open plan desk I minimised my browser and candidly (yes, before the days of smart phones!) began to google. Perhaps if my life had background music something along the lines of the Hallelujah chorus would have played when I stumbled upon a website called Weirdly enough this website doesn’t exist anymore, but this simple url changed my life more than Pinterest or Facebook could every imagine. Unlike episodes of “How I met your Mother”, I seriously cannot remember the exact details, but what I read was one of those “this is totally me!” situations. I had always loved the idea of urban design and the broader view of the built environment, but quite frankly after adding coordinates to 500 odd lamp poles and benches, the idea wasn’t that exciting. But what if it didn’t just involve streets, paving details and “urban markers”? What if it involved something far more complex: the landscape.

So within 6 months I had uprooted my dog (and my other half) from Port Elizabeth and moved to Cape Town to study landscape architecture at UCT. I remember driving my tiny Yaris over Van Staadens bridge, trying not to freak out over the wind that was definitely going blow my car off the edge and listening to someone on the radio speak about new beginnings and change. Yes! On to the rest of my life and my awesome career as a landscape architect!

Okay, to cut the story short, it wasn’t quite that simple. What followed was another two years of creative awakening, sleepless nights and more model-building severed finger tips. For two years some people thought my other half had an imaginary girlfriend while I was processing concepts I’d never dreamed about. Terms such as “ecological urbanism”, and “phenomenology” become my lingo as I learn about the relationship between social, urban and natural processes and how as a landscape architect we can design spaces to facilitate this symbiotic relationship. Yes, I can see your glazed-over eyes and no, don’t close the browser just yet. While these things seem all theoretical, they’re the key to a rather important effort: the future of our planet. Yip, landscape architects are here to save the world!

Which is where I insert this meme:

Right, so what the hell do landscape architects actually do?

Let’s start with top left. Firstly, that’s not quite my design vibe, but we’re not here to do a design crit. Secondly, yes, I do a lot of this. In fact, this is where I make the majority of my income and I love it. I love going to clients’ homes and being bowled over by their giant-sized dogs. I love the look on people’s faces when they describe their favourite plants and their joy when they first see my design proposals. I love making a difference environmentally no matter how small it may be. No, this isn’t the definition of what landscape architects do (and my parents wouldn’t have funded a second master’s degree if it was!), but it’s still a very real and important part of the profession.

Images two and three: I kind of feel like these should be swopped around. As an architect I’m allowed to criticise and say that far too many architects have slapped on a green roof or made their building “emerge from the ground” and called it landscape architecture. The emoji with the slap to the face comes in mind. Image three: let me explain it to you this way. Does an architect cast a concrete slab? Nope? Well then, I don’t personally plant my trees. A landscaping contractor does that. And for the reference: “landSCAPING architecture” is not a term (laughing crying face emoji).

Image four: hahahahahahaha – add some wine, travel and a run and I’m there!

Image five: okay, unless you live under a bridge, this is the High Line and, in many ways, it is a bridge. This project in New York took a dis-used railway line and managed to create a linear green urban park that connected the city, created positive public space and combatted CO2 levels with greenery. It also made for a kick ass tourist and selfie-taking spot. I won’t go into all the technical speak about it, but basically it does something that architects can’t do: it responds to the urban, natural and social processes and connects them. Yes, that’s what I’d love to, and will do one day (grinning smiley face).

Sixth image: Story. Of. My. Life.

I’m pretty sure you still have no idea what landscape architecture is, but I hope this entertained you if nothing else. My story has only just begun (cue background music) and yes, if it’s a tiny drop in the ocean or a flower in the garden, I’m going to do my bit to save the planet.

House Watt Rose Buchanan Landscape design

Sorry, Lawn, it’s not you it’s my Climate – Why South Africans need to break up with their lawns

I’m the type of person who very rarely reveals my emotions, but on this day the look of absolute horror and disbelief peeled away my resting bitch face and left me completely stunned. I stared open-mouthed while the person in front of me proceeded to describe how she wanted a garden removed of all natural clutter, gesturing frantically at the beautiful canopy of trees above us. “All this” (more dramatic gestures), “it gives me a headache”. I tried to close my guppy-mouth, fighting back the urge to prescribe Myprodol (or perhaps an accidental blow to the head) and began to assess the situation. While this garden, filled with plants, trees and nature delighted and calmed me, it had the ability to produce the complete opposite impact on someone else. How was that even possible? 

How could someone even THINK to destroy something so beautiful and (horrors of horrors) replace it with artificial lawn? To me that was unthinkable, but to her she needed a “safe” play area for her children. I did wonder, as I marched myself quickly off the premises, whether her children wouldn’t actually prefer to run through the vegetation, climb the trees and jump from the Khoi pond rocks? Or perhaps that’s a far too pre-millennial thought?

What if we could get over our perception of what a typical garden needs to be? Think back to your childhood perception of garden: lawn, edged with beds, perhaps a tree or two and maybe a kitch water feature in the corner with a skewered fish regurgitating water. Sound familiar? Which is great, except for one critical factor: water. The reality of our South African climate has finally set in and our water thirsty European gardens are slowly wilting away. At this very moment of writing this article I have a team of guys in my garden spewing mud everywhere, while they attempt to locate a well point. And why? To save my f***ing lawn.

And surely there should be something more to South African landscaping than simply saving lawn or replacing it with heat-absorbing, dog wee smelling, un-recyclable astro? For goodness sake, we have one of the biggest floral kingdoms in the world! A true South African would never choose box wine over a good bottle of wine so why on earth do we do it with our gardens? Yes, lawn does have a place within a garden, but can we change our perception to realise that a garden doesn’t have to have lawn? All those poor plants who have been shoved to the edges are just begging to break free and become centre pieces, natural meadows, creators of space and most importantly, home to micro-ecosystems.

No, I’m not saying that every garden must become a natural wilderness complete with sandstone rocks, thatch grass and possibly a weed-smoking surfer. The potential is far greater than that. We just need to learn how to break the mould of our preconceived garden ideas and begin to use plants and materials to shape our gardens. I’m not even suggesting that we solely look to indigenous plants and natural materials, but rather explore how to combine indigenous and water wise exotics with natural and man-made elements to create spaces that reflect our own unique characters and identities. And let’s not even get into the potential of being able to eat your garden rather than lie on it! Whether your preference is for clean-lined architectural spaces, or wild organic chaos, I can guarantee you that apart from providing your Labrador with a place to dig, lawn cannot solely satisfy your aesthetic needs.

So while I resume my resting bitch face and continue with my landscaping endeavour, perhaps it’s time you considered a break up with your lawn?