Palm Lakes Estate

Project Team
Developer: Royal Palm Property Holdings
Landscape Architects: Uys & White (Durban)
Landscape Contractors: Mad Landscapes, Emerald Landscapes
Environmental Consultants: Sustainable Development Projects
Irrigation: Controlled Irrigation and JKS Irrigation

Palm Lakes Residential Estate is located in the Tinley Manor area of KZN, north of Ballito and 23 km from the new King Shaka International Airport. The site is typical of Natal’s rolling hills, with expansive green valleys, natural wetlands and existing coastal forests and grasslands.

Landscape architect Bernice Rumble of Uys & White says the client, Mark Froman, was “passionate about landscaping and wanted to create a resort-like quality on arrival, as well as a botanical garden estate.” The use of tropical and sub-tropical plants alongside indigenous ones was encouraged to provide a diverse landscape which would attract wildlife and provide colour for residents and visitors.

Landscape design philosophy

Rumble says that the site’s topography is very dramatic, with steep slopes and well-defined water courses which has lead to large conservation open space areas. To reduce high intensity maintenance and comply with the EMP, the majority of these open space areas have been rehabilitated back to either 100% indigenous coastal forests, grasslands or coastal palm veld. These newly rehabilitated areas will form important environmental corridors.
No alien or invasive plant species were permitted onto the estate and the overall character is typically sub-tropical coastal; this, together with the vast areas of indigenous coastal rehabilitation, has enhanced and added value to the existing bio-diversity of the area, which is largely a mono-culture of sugar cane.
The main arrival area has been intensively landscaped to reflect an informal resort style, thereby creating a strong identity and sense of place. Bold use of colour and massing is evident, with clipped Duranta, Ophiopogon japonicus and Cycas spp forming a strong statement under a formally placed boulevard of palms. Says Rumble: “In addition, the main entrance is dramatic because the earth was moulded on either side to create an enclosed arrival space that exhibits the landscape to those approaching. We further integrated the landscape with the road by changing the road edge from a typically straight line to an organic curved detail. Irregular, oval-shaped planted islands were also introduced into the road and this helped to soften the overall quality, thereby enhancing the botanical resort atmosphere.”

The overall road articulation is a combination of formal and informal links, encouraging formal and informal planting. Trees and palms have been planted along the roads either in boulevard formation or in clusters to strengthen the developer’s vision of creating a botanical garden estate. Tree planting within the road reserves is crucial in order to soften the overall built environment and roof scape, with tree and palm choices for these roads separated into neighbourhoods, thereby enhancing the feeling of seasonal changes within the landscape. Road islands and intersections have been given floral identities by the massing of plant species and the use of large, out-of-ground plant specimens. (See plant list below). Road finishes differ according to road hierarchies and clay pavers with cobble edging have been used at the main entrance.

Plant list

To achieve the lush, tropical look required, the following plant material was used:

  • Palms
  • Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, H.verschaffeltii, Dypsis leptocheilos, D.decaryii, D.lutescens, Butia capitata, B. yatay, Livistonia chinensis, Woodyetia bifurcata, Roystonia regia, Syagrus romanzoffiana, Caryota mitis, Ravenea rivularis, Phoenix reclinata, P.roebelinii, Hyphaene coriacea
  • Cycads/Cycas
  • Cycas revoluta, C.thoursii, Dioon spinulosum, Encephalartos natalensis, E.ferox, Zamia furferacea

Environmental aspects

Simon Bundy of Sustainable Development Projects was the appointed environmental consultant and says that the Palm Lakes development was based primarily on altered sugar cane lands, some of the oldest in South Africa. (The area was part of the trial plots established by Morewood, the founder of the South African cane industry). As such, the area itself had been subject to extensive bio-physical alteration over a period of a century or more. Palm Lakes lies within the Umhlali River catchment and in close proximity to the upper reaches of the Umhlali estuary. Maintenance of the hydrology of the site formed the basis for environmental management at Palm Lakes.

To this end, the focus on Palm Lakes was to identify and rank the many streams that pervaded the site and to consider the maintenance of the aquatic ecology associated with the Umhlali. Streams that were found to be low ranking in terms of biological function were proposed for the establishment of water features and improvements in botanical diversity, while those systems that were found to have higher rankings were not considered for impoundment and general riverine management principles were applied in these instances. The overall objective was to ensure that Palm Lakes would not affect downstream estuarine functionality and where possible, to improve on this system.


Landscape installation

Alan Hunt of Mad Landscapes and Brendan Fox of Emerald Landscapes were responsible for the landscape installation, which Hunt describes as a ‘Madagascan theme’. His scope of work was to carry out all aspects of landscaping including sourcing of plant material, working within a set budget, control of all sub-contractors namely irrigation, civil works, shaping of subsoil and topsoil, as well as large tree and palm harvesting and planting. Says Hunt: “Although the site was originally a sugar cane farm with a few banana plantations, it had gentle slopes, beautiful valley lines and a small stream passing through, leading to a horse shoe dam that was built by the previous owner. The greatest advantage for us was that we were involved right from the start and we could use the lie of the land as well as existing plant material. The developer had vision and foresight, understanding the importance of plant material, the need to plant trees in the valley lines and the value of eradicating alien vegetation and replacing it with indigenous trees. He inspired us with his passion for plants.” Hunt says there was no shortage of water and this helped to establish the landscape quickly. However the soil was not very thick in some areas and had a high clay content, which made it difficult to apply and shape.
As the developer was very keen on instant, tropical gardens that were colourful and soft on the eye, Hunt used mass plantings of groundcovers with bright colours either in the flowers or the foliage. Evergreen trees were chosen as opposed to anything with thorns. “The larger the leaf the better, and as many unusual varieties as possible,” he says.

A nursery was established especially for the estate in order to provide the plant material required, and plants were grown from seed, cuttings or splits. Mad Landscapes undertakes daily site maintenance and all areas are cut once a week. Maintenance also comprises edge trimming, tree pruning and applying fertilisers and pesticides when needed. In addition they are responsible for watering and maintenance of the irrigation system, driving range, tee boxes, fairway and greens.

Emerald Landscapes was involved in the landscape installation for Phase 1, which included the main gate and landscaping of the roads within the estate. According to Lesley Ridgway, one of their biggest challenges was the relocation of a large-leafed fig tree at the first traffic circle. It had to be split in half to be transported and was then transplanted with great care to ensure that it was “correctly put back together again”. The first year of maintenance was undertaken by Emerald Landscapes.


The irrigation system was designed by Controlled Irrigation and installed by JKS Irrigation with the following design brief:

  • water would be supplied to the estate from the river, with the old agricultural pump station being upgraded to cater for all home and common area irrigation
  • all common areas would be irrigated direct from the pressurised pipeline
  • home owners would be offered free, non-potable water for irrigation purposes i.e. fresh water and irrigation water would be piped to each residential and share block stand
  • water saving and irrigation management was to be of utmost importance
  • each stand would be given a take-off point which would be remotely managed according to water requirements, taking into account soil type, planting variety, rainfall and local weather conditions
  • the pressurised line and communication cable between controllers would be undertaken by the main contractor with the irrigation contractor’s responsibility being from the take-off points

The above was a unique requirement which (as far as JKS Irrigation is aware) has not been implemented on any other estate and required some “thinking out of the box”. A moisture sensing computerised system was selected, comprising a series of remote controllers each servicing 200 zones. These zones can be assigned to either common areas or residential sites. The controller is programmed to identify common vs. residential zones. Common zones were activated as landscaping was done, with residential zones being activated on request when occupation was taken.
The advantage of the system is that it is a ‘two-wire’ system which eliminates the need to lay kilometers of individual valve control wire from controller to solenoid valves. A two-wire path carries both 24VAC power and communication signals to activate zones. A further plus for the system is that at any point, extra zones can be added or removed, within hydraulic constraints, to facilitate changes to site or landscape conditions.

Irrigation time and duration is automatically computed via moisture sensors strategically positioned in the landscaped areas. These sensors are positioned in the root zone and measure moisture levels at the point of intake by the plant. When the percentage moisture falls below the preset levels (which are adjustable by management), irrigation is called for. At the same time, the irrigation windows are taken into account i.e. common areas are only scheduled to irrigate at night when public traffic is at a minimum. Moisture graphs, wire and valve malfunction, irrigation times and duration are all stored for historic and management purposes.

Installed sprinklers have been selected according to planting regimes as follows:

  • signature series 6000 gear drive rotor pop-ups and shrub heads
  • signature series 6300 static pop-ups and shrub sprays
  • signature series 6300 pop-ups and shrub heads with MPR rotating nozzles
  • signature series 9000 25mm and 40mm solenoid valves activate the irrigation zones

With regard to the installation of the system, it was marked out with trench routes demarcated by lime and sprinkler points identified by marker flags. This was then approved by the consultant to ensure that other services such as electrical or plumbing were not compromised; the landscaper also commented on any design changes. Installation of the main and lateral lines was undertaken both by means of hand trenching and use of a Bobcat mini excavator machine. Trenching conditions were difficult due to the amount of shale and rock present in the soil. Backfilling was undertaken using imported material to prevent shale and sharp rocks damaging the installed pipe lines. Much co-ordination took place to ensure that all contractors worked together without delaying or damaging others’ works. Irrigation pipe work was installed after final levels were pulled, allowing the landscaper to plant without interruption. JKS Irrigation undertook final adjustments of sprinkler bodies and nozzles immediately thereafter, supplying water without delay to newly landscaped areas.

Water features

Several man-made lakes were created to enhance the value of the estate and the function of the open space system. The water bodies are mostly for storm water attenuation but nevertheless attract wildlife to the estate.

Information supplied by Uys & White (Durban), Mad Landscapes, Emerald Landscapes, Sustainable Development Projects and JKS Irrigation.
Compilation by Karyn Richards. Photos courtesy of Uys & White, Mad Landscapes and YZ Gardens.