The new Oyster Box Hotel

Project Team
Client: Red Carnation Hotels Collection
Landscape Consultant: Jean wouters
Landscape Contractor: Emerald Landscapes

Following an extensive two year renovation and refurbishment programme, the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks, KZN, re-opened for business in October 2009. Jean Wouters (former owner of Marina Landscaping in Cape Town) was appointed as the landscape consultant and engaged Franchesca Watson, her business partner in Marina Landscaping, to assist with the choice of plant material. Having worked for the Botanical Gardens in Durban, Watson contributed her extensive knowledge of KZN plants to the project.

The client’s brief was to relocate and replant as much of the original plant material as possible in order to retain the traditional colonial feel of the hotel; the gardens were required to “fit in with the style of the building, reminiscent of the old hotel which is recognised as an old Durban favourite”. The brief also called for a lush tropical look, using large plants where possible and it was decided to use “hot colours vibrating with contrasting white”.

Wouters says it was difficult to retain any of the previous landscape design due to the extensive building operations. However an audit of plants in the previous gardens was carried out and suitable species were earmarked for relocation to a nursery situation for re-positioning in the new garden at a later stage. The plants were stored at Palm Farm in Stanger and re-installed into the new gardens by Emerald Landscapes.

Following several meetings with the Landscape Planning Department of eThekweni Municipality regarding the protection of existing trees, namely Sideroxylon inerme, Ficus lutea and Trichelia emetica, Wouters submitted her landscape plans to them for approval, prior to the tender process.

During the latter part of the installation she dealt once more with municipality officials regarding the landscape restoration of council verges. Indigenous material was specified for dune rehabilitation and perimeter plantings, whilst the municipality permitted a selection of non-invasive species to the inner quadrangle/courtyards. The trunks of the abovementioned trees were boarded up for protection.

Landscaped areas

The first re-landscaped area was the forecourt and entrance which was “kept very simple”, according to Wouters. The original hotel frontage was retained and no heavy planting was installed against this facade. Large ex-open ground Roystonea palms were placed at the entrance and Erythrina caffra in the parking areas. Simple plantings of white Plumbago, white Agapanthus and red Hibiscus shrubberies were used within the forecourt area and Bougainvilla was added to the arched trellis work. There is a large traffic circle with water feature at the entrance to the hotel, to which the client added a bronze sculpture of dolphins.

In the second instance, the beach aspect, dunes and hotel perimeters were re-landscaped. Along the beach aspect of the hotel, considerable dune rehabilitation was required and this was carried out using much the same species that the municipality had used to restore the beach front following storm damage in 2008. Prior to building operations, large Aloe thraskii plants on the dunes were excavated and planted closer together to make for easier protection.

The dune flora was discussed in great detail between Wouters, the main contractor, Emerald Landscapes and the municipality. Certain species were protected by shade cloth fences for the duration of the project. The dune profile was, to a large degree, left untouched and whatever was damaged was rehabilitated using the same plants that were originally there. The rehabilitated dune was in fact upgraded in terms of plant material and a number of species were replanted. Some alien species were removed and replaced with indigenous dune-dwelling species.

The central quadrangle is the core of the new garden and is almost hidden from the general public as it is enclosed by the villas, main hotel and spa. It is close to the sea but protected from the salt air by the buildings, and is divided into the following sections:

  • the swimming pool with lawns, large palms and shrubberies, flanked by 28 Frangipani trees which contribute their shades of deep reddish pink/apricot. This section is on a dropped level and to give body to the beds, strong groupings of red and orange Ixora coccinea, backed in sections by Murraya, were planted. These are bordered by Hymenocallis
  • the villa gardens – each has a jacuzzi, small garden, palm tree and large pots with Rouvolfia caffra. The approach to the villas is through the shade of two fully grown Erythrina caffra trees under which are abundant plantings of Stenoclena ferns with a background of yellow and green Acalypha java Wilkesiana
  • the spa gardens water feature. These are tropical gardens containing Heliconia, Alocasia, Philodendrons and ground orchids. Large reflection ponds are lined with black granite slabs and contain water lilies and lotus flowers planted into large circular containers. These were custom made in black fibrecrete
  • the fountain court contains six large Roystonea palms, identically matched, a water feature on two levels with a rill and mosaic work. Water flows from the rill into a second pond on a lower level. The area is tiled with black and white terrazzo tiles and the pool coping surrounds are flamed black granite slabs. Four large Anduze pots will be planted up with Medinilla plants which are presently being grown by Emerald Landscapes
  • a lawned wedding area with antique wrought-iron gazebo is enclosed with Pavetta revoluta and Spider Lilies and ringed with Dictyosperma palms which have orchids attached to the stems. (The common name for Pavetta is appropriately ‘Bridal Blush’)

Throughout the landscape there are large clumps of Strelizia nicolai and densely planted sections of Chrysalidocarpus, adding to the ‘Natal feel’, according to Wouters. The areas are linked by a series of paths which are tiled in white terrazzo.

Landscape installation

Brendan Fox of Emerald Landscapes was responsible for the landscape and irrigation installation, as well as the sourcing of all plant materials for the project. He was also involved in the initial stages in so far as planning and logistics were concerned.
Says Fox: “The landscaping areas were small on this very busy construction site, and access was a huge challenge. The amphitheatre and arena are the main focal areas of the hotel and required careful co-ordination with the main contractor and sub-contractors. Some of our more difficult challenges along the way included the planting of crane size trees within the arena and amphitheatre.
This was due to areas being specifically cordoned off and thereafter, in some cases, further access through or in that area was no longer allowed. This made general workings on site quite difficult for everyone, considering the time constraints to which we were all subjected”.

When Fox began the installation, everything had been removed except for three large Sideroxylon inerme trees, three large Ficus lutea, one large Trichelia emetica, a number of large Strelitzias and one Erythrina caffra.
A number of key plants were stored at a nursery for the duration of the construction period and were returned to site later when space for them became available. Mostly the larger feature trees were kept in situ, and the remaining plants that were returned to site were used in newly landscaped areas. Some of the plants returned to site included Hibiscus, Strelitzia nicolai, Cycas revoluta, Aloe thraskii, Trichelia emetica, Draceana hoekeriana, Ficus lerata and Frangipani.
Emerald Landscapes has a six month ‘grow in’ maintenance contract which involves general garden care and maintenance of the irrigation system. They are also required to undertake careful planning in conjunction with hotel management to ensure that there is minimal disturbance caused by mowing and other work around the hotel.


An Acclima irrigation system has been installed and works off groundwater sensors which are strategically placed to capture the moisture levels in the soil. The entire system consists of 37 stations and works off five sensors on the site.
Each station is linked to a sensor which is embedded in a similar soil type to the area which it is in, allowing that station to water effectively. The sensors work on thresholds which are programmed into a controller, which in turn tells the system when to irrigate areas in need of water. The system was designed to run off grey water.


Coming from the Cape, Wouters says the project has been a challenging one for her, especially dealing with the different weather conditions in KZN. “The Cape is windy but I didn’t realize that KZN is as well. This factor, plus the humidity, was quite an eye-opener for me,” she states.
She also worked with plants that were unfamiliar to her. “There were plants I thought would do well but didn’t, and vice versa, so it’s been a huge learning curve for me. It was also quite difficult to source plant material of a reasonable size, as the client wanted a mature garden almost immediately”.
She says it was interesting to explore the smaller specialist growers, where she found many of the species required. The client was very involved with the choice of plants and the overall ambience of the hotel’s landscaping.

Information supplied by Jean Wouters and Emerald Landscapes.
Photos by Patrick Royal and Karyn Richards.