Le Domaine

Le Domaine is a community-type residential development in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal. It consists of a series of villages, each carrying the name of a French town in accordance with the French provençale/Mediterranean style of the architecture. The villages are interlinked by landscaping and a four km water course, consisting of streams, ponds and waterfalls, which meanders through the site. This article looks at the common area landscaping which includes the main entrance, public spaces, community centre, street landscaping and gate house.

The development has been designed specifically for the over 50s who enjoy an active lifestyle. Projects of this type are common in the United States but this is the first time that an active adult community development has been created in South Africa.

Brief and design philosophy

The client, John Bezuidenhout, called for a brief in which the landscaping would enhance the quality of living throughout the development. His vision was the creation of a botanical garden.

The landscape design philosophy is one which makes a strong statement on arrival. “The first impression needs to be one of quality and of experiencing the open space. Thereafter, it is to reflect the quality of the planting and landscaping, which is 90% indigenous,” says landscape architect Lucas Uys.

At the main entrance, a large water feature creates a sense of arrival, strong impact and a celebration point. It is a tall, upright pillar, its concrete core clad in natural stone and divided into sections by metal rings. A series of carved horses heads, nine in total, around the top section of the pillar make a connection with the surrounding areas (outside Le Domaine) which are estates and farms with enclosed paddocks. Both the bottom and topmost portions of the pillar are circular – a saucer at the top and a round pond at the bottom into which the water falls and splashes.

Site conditions

the topography of the site was undulating, with rolling hills which were previously sugar cane fields and which provided excellent topsoil for the landscape development of Le Domaine. This was stockpiled on the site and used throughout for the planting.

The starting point for the creation of the water course was an existing natural wetland, 4000m2 in size. It is in fact more of a reed bed than an open water body and has been rehabilitated to act as a filtering mechanism as well as an attractive, aesthetic feature. It was used as a design element, giving rise to the creation of the central waterway which runs through the site. The water features have in fact become attenuation ponds, kept full by a central water reticulation system.

Le Domaine is connected to the country’s first privately owned regional sewerage plant in Hillcrest, which is owned by the developers of the adjoining Cotswold Downs Golf Estate. The sewerage plant provides recycled water for the waterways and ponds at Le Domaine as well as the golf course being built at Cotswold Downs. A scoping report was undertaken for the treatment of sewerage.

The villages are linked by a 4km water course meandering through the course
Water feature in front of the administration offices

Planting and soft landscaping

The planting and soft landscaping at Le Domaine has introduced a diversity of plant species, mostly endemic to the region. They have been used to create a “dramatic visual experience”, according to Uys.

At the main entrance, Aloe barberiae create a striking impact, planted in a circle around the water feature described earlier. Phoenix reclinata palms have also been planted here. The road hierarchy is characterised by Acacia xanthophloea trees which provide a common thread throughout and are used as identification references. Along village roads, three tree types have been used alternatively in the villages, with a shrub and groundcover combination to common areas. The trees are Caledendron capensis, Dais cotinifolia and Erythrina lysistemon.

Along the waterways, a mix of indigenous trees and shrubs has been planted, including Acacia xanthophloea, Ficus babu, Rauvolfia caffra and Syzigium cordatum. Veldgrasses have been introduced along the site’s periphery to prevent erosion and encourage a natural habitat for wildlife.

Traffic circle planting in between the various villages consists of a massing of textures and colours and comprises mono-cultures of Aloe barberiae, Euphorbia ingens and Phoenix reclinata. In the case of the street landscape, the undergrowth is mainly indigenous, but with the introduction of some exotics for additional colour to match the Mediterranean architectural expression.

The soft landscaping in general has created dramatic impressions by monocultures of indigenous plants and the homogenous use of plants giving a feeling of discipline, according to Uys. It also serves to create screening and privacy between the homes, which are situated fairly close together.

There is a specific planting philosophy for each pond
Gazebo within the common area landscaping

Traffic circle planting between the villages

Pond planting philosophy

In addition to the general landscape design philosophy, there is also aspecific planting philosophy for the ponds that makep the watercourse. This is centered around the idea that each pond is treated differently in terms of the usage of plantpecies, colours and textures. As with the overall plant philosophy, the pond planting philosophy conforms to the idea ofsing predominantly indigenous and endemic species. Each of the 30 ponds on site has been allocated a specific theme and landscape design, as follows:

  • the birds of a feather pond, where plant species create a safe haven for birds and waterfowl;
  • the protea pond, surrounded by the national heritage flower;
  • the Acacia pond, featuring A. caffra, A. sieberiana ‘Woodii’ and A. xanthophloea;
  • the Celtis and Agapanthus pond, a combination of Celtis africana and various Agapanthus species;
  • the prehistoric pond containing Ginko biloba and Encephalartos species;
  • the indigenous African palm pond, with Phoenix reclinata, Hyphaene natalensis, Raphis australis and Jubaeopsis caffra;
  • the Buddleja species pond, with B. saligna, B.salvifolia and B. auriculata;
  • the herb pond, where fresh herbs will be at the disposal of residents;
  • Kniphofias for Africa, with K. praecox, K. ‘Royal Strain, and K. ‘Yellow Cheer’;
  • the indigenous rain forest pond, which will be covered in a canopy of Rauvolfia caffra and Ficus natalensis;
  • the succulent pond, with Aloe species, Sanseveriacylindrica and Crassula multicava;
  • the large leaf pond with Helichrysum populifolium, Melianthus major and M. minor;
  • the purple pond with Polygala species, Geranium incanum and Tulbachia species;
  • the silver pond with waves of shimmering silver leaves;
  • the sunrise pond, where plant material covers all the colours of sunrise – red, orange and yellow;
  • the bridal pond – a spectacular show of pure white flowers and foliage;
  • restios and grasses pond, with African grasses that play in the breeze;
  • the yellow pond, bordered by Tecomaria capensis, Acacia karroo and Bulbine natalensis;
  • the polka dot pond – spot the pond!;
  • shades of tanzanite – all the shades of blue;
  • the wetland, with Typha capensis, Cyperus papyrus and Zantedeschia aethiopica;
  • the flamingo pond, containing material in different shades of pink;
  • the medicinal plant pond – a sangoma’s haven;
  • indigenous tree fern pond, with Cyathia dregei, Blechnum and Adiantum species;
  • leafy pond – get lost in the green!;
  • indigenous scarp forest with Albizia adiantifolia, Combretum erythrophyllum, Podocarpus falcatus, Celtis africana, Rothmannia globosa;
  • daisy pond, with Osteospermum, Arctotis, Gazania and Dimorphotheca species;
  • the Persian carpet pond, with plants in luxurious reds and burgundy;
  • ripples of colour – concentric circles of colour.

All these themes are geared towards attracting birds and butterflies to form a self-sustaining, water related ecosystem.
Informative plaques placed at each pond identify the pond’s character and the species used.

Common area landscaping
The starting point for the water course was an existing natural reed bed wetland

Installation and maintenance

The landscape installation was undertaken by Real Landscapes KZN and Ros O’Connor is on site permanently, seeing to the common area landscaping as well as the gardens around the homes. “There has been good growth and plants have established quickly, but people have their own views which we need to accommodate,” she says. Terry van der Riet adds: “There’s a delicate balance that needs to be achieved between the residents’ requirements and the landscape architect’s vision.”

Maintenance is intensive, with clipping and pruning carefully undertaken to ensure the density of the landscaping. Real Landscapes has put together a specific plant maintenance programme which is strictly adhered to.

The landscaping budget is high because of the character and style of the development, as well as the quality and quantity of plant material required for each village.


The irrigation system, installed by Step Irrigation, is fully automated but the overall requirements changed as the project evolved. Initially, only the main avenues were to be watered but after much debate, it was agreed that all public areas be irrigated and quick coupling points have been provided at approximately 40m intervals for residents to use in their own exclusive areas.

This change happened after the initial irrigation had been installed. From a hydrodynamic point of view, initial pipe sizes were too small for the amount of water needed to accommodate the new design requirements. In order to overcome this, a series of ring mains was created around and through the individual villages. The public areas were retro-fitted with the irrigation into established gardens and under hard landscape surfaces. These are now controlled by solorain valves, the timing of which had to occur only when the pumps could accommodate the irrigation. Residents were not to be inconvenienced.

Future villages in the developments will be controlled by the recently launched Acclima product which essentially eliminates the watering on demand that the original system had. A series of sensors that can be programmed to specific soil moisture limits will determine when and if areas should be irrigated. This fits in with the high-tech nature of the development as well as with the need to conserve a very valuable and scarce resource. The first Acclima system in South Africa has been installed around the recently opened club house.

Team work

The success of Le Domaine is as a result of teamwork between the developer, the landscape architects and the landscapecontractors.

The developer has a vision, the landscape architect interprets it, the landscape contractor implements it.

Theroles of each are clearly defined, yet it is the sum total of their respective skills and contributions that ensures thefinal, successful outcome.

Text: Karyn Richards
Photos: Uys and White & Karyn Richards