The African Zen garden established the theme for the project, with the oriental aspects of Zen translating well into an African setting
An African adaptation of Zen- a simple tree trunk placed between two boulders

The game reserve forms part of a long-term conservation plan to protect 16 000 square kilometers as a ‘biosphere’ reserve designed to protect biological diversity while incorporating the presence of people. The game reserve is situated in the Waterberg Mountains, a three hour drive from Johannesburg, and adjoins the newly created Marakele National Park.
The landscape design philosophy called for a detailed design but one that would limit the long-term effects on the environment and return it to its natural state. In addition, the lodge and its surrounds were required to cater specifically for the needs of the family. An example of this is the fact that fire breaks around the perimeter of the property serve as jogging or walking paths and exercise stations have been established at various points throughout the grounds. The jogging path has 13 stations, four of which have been specifically designed for a circuit workout.

Planting elements

The landscape design philosophy also stipulated that the surrounds of the lodge should resemble the natural reserve and an appropriate example of this is the selection of grass species which was crucial to achieving the required result. Landscape architect Sasha Tarnopolsky of Dry Design (USA) undertook an Environmental Impact Assessment and soil samples were done on existing and imported soils to ensure compatibility. Although based in the USA, Tarnopolsky compiled a list of indigenous and endemic plants in order to achieve the appropriate look and feel for the project. However, in sourcing the plant material, Real Landscapes discovered that some of the species were not commercially available and certain substitutes were made.

The planting can be described broadly as “informal rehabilitation”. It is not colourful but rather re-creates the indigenous veldgrasses of the nature reserve. The types of trees and long grasses of the Highveld area form the introduction to the vegetation found at the lodge. In addition to the restoration work done, there are “many garden moments on the site that express various landscape typologies,” according to Tarnopolsky. These are areas where the landscaping went beyond the simple restoration of indigenous plants. Plants have been selected and arranged to create a sense of place, unique from the rest of the grounds. Each bedroom has its own garden with benches, boulders and signature plantings. The walkway to the game hide is a ‘forest’ of Aloe marlothii, A. pretorensis and Stapellia gigantea. (See also section below on the dry cascade).

The indigenous restoration of the degraded areas of the site was accomplished in a number of ways: the first stage was to plant trees and the types of trees selected was based on what was available from nurseries as well as those that emulated the naturally occurring vegetation on the reserve. These include Albizia tanganyicensis for their white stems, indigenous Ficus species to attract birds, Euphorbia ingens for sculptural accent and fruit for birds, Gardenia volkensii for fragrance,and Lannea discolor and Terminalia sericea for their beautiful seasonal qualities. They are also the predominant trees in this area of the reserve. The bare soil was hydroseeded with a mix of fast-establishing, indigenous grasses such as Eragrostis curvula, Heteropogon contortus, Melinis repens, Schmidtia pappophoroides and Themeda triandra.

Four aspects of the landscaping are particularly noteworthy: the first is an African Zen garden which has in fact established the theme for the project. The name was formed as the work was taking place on site and what has been created is a garden based on Japanese Zen elements with South African indigenous plants. The design is veryfunctional as this area is exposed to severe heat and sun the whole day and is situated between two stone retaining walls. Nevertheless the effect is striking in a minimalistic way and the oriental aspects of Zen translate well into this African setting. The African Zen adaptation can also be seen at other spots around the site, for example a raised platform with tree trunk placed between two large boulders and a cast concrete bench with brick finish placed under a tree.

The second interesting aspect is a dry cascade, part of the brief from the landscape architect. Real Landscapes, under the direction of Renzo Derksen, had to create a dry river bed which resembled a natural rapid. It also had to be functional in order to form a planted walkway with steps leading to the constructed game hide. Succulent species have been planted at strategic spots along the dry cascade.

The third aspect is the fact that all the buildings with their concrete verandah roofs have double volume windows to allow light and sun to enter. Planter boxes have been placed on roof ledges and planted with short indigenous veldgrasses which resemble the rehabilitated areas of the landscaping. This turf layer helps to insulate the roofs, shading the clerestorey levels in summer and allowing light to penetrate in winter.

The fourth unusual aspect is an outdoor shower next to the raised rim flow swimming pool. Around the base of the shower, a mini landscape of rock, stone and reeds forms an attractive feature. Each of the separate bedrooms also has its own outdoor shower and water drains directly from these showers into adjacent planting areas to irrigate them. The only manicured portion of the property is a rectangular lawn area between the main house and the pool – for the rest, it is a rehabilitated veldgrass landscape.
Irrigation is minimal, with the exception of the formal lawn area. A drip irrigation system has been installed for the planter boxes on the roof ledge.

Retaining wall constructed around an existing Wild Syringa tree to preserve it
Outdoor shower near the pool with landscape of rock, stone and reeds

The dry cascade forming a natural walkway to the game hide
Pathways of fine crusher stone create natural walking routes through the landscape and invite one into it to investigate

Water feature of natural rock at the main entrance. A hole was drilled through the boulder on the left to create a bubbler and allow the water to cascade over it and into the pond
Indigenous grasses in planter boxes on the roof ledges. In the foreground are the rehabilitated areas of veldgrass

Fire breaks around the perimeter of the property serve as exercise paths
African adaptation of Zen in the form of a resting spot under a tree

Hard landscaping

Numerous paths of fine Waterberg sandstone quartz gravel create natural walkways throughout the site, establishing a sense of walking through authentic bushveld.
A fairly large portion of the hardscaping entailed the construction of natural stone clad retaining walls. Stone from the site was used, following strict design lines on the actual structures. This resulted in meticulous and time-consuming construction procedures. In one instance, a low retaining wall was actually constructed around an existing Wild Syringa tree to preserve and incorporate it. This wall also acts to visually knit the pond setting (see paragraph below, just before ‘Biofilter System’) with the view of the mountains in the distance.

Rehabilitation work for trees formed a large part of the landscaping work. As a result of changes to levels and slopes on site, areas around the root systems had to be built up. In some cases, existing trees became buried under topsoil and digging around them took place in order to free them. Another aspect of the rehabilitation work involved the disguising of sewage pipes and services by means of mounding and then placing natural rocks and grasses over them.

An attractive water feature presents a calm scene as one approaches the main entrance and brings the sound of water close to a viewing deck located here. Built with natural boulders, it has water cascading over it into a pond. When the excavations for the foundations were dug, a large bed of natural rock was exposed and this was left intact to form the base of the water feature, at the same time creating a natural pond.The boulders became the basis and foundation of the design. A hole was drilled through the boulder in the centre of the pond to form a bubbler and to allow the water to cascade over it. Indigenous water plants and reeds placed in and around the pond add soft greenery to it.

Biofilter system

Lengau is a self-sustaining development in the greater Welgevonden Game Reserve and as such, the owners are responsible for treating their own effluent. Although the structures and reticulation of the water treatment plant fell outside the scope of Real Landscape’s work, they were nevertheless involved with the final shaping of the open treatment dams and the planting of numerous wetland species and reeds through which the filtered effluent moves in its final stages of treatment and cleaning.

The purification of waste water is through the series of wetlands that attract birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians. Adjacent vegetation also thrives in the wetland environment and plants include Gomphostigma virgatum, Gunnera perpensa, Junarseffuses, Nymphaea novchalii and Typha capensis. The life in and around the wetlands is prolific and dense.

Complicated logistics

The planning and logistics of the project were extensive and difficult, according to Derksen. “There were very few facilities and materials had to be sourced from a vast range of suppliers around the country. Basic commodities such as instant lawn and compost had to be transported from Gauteng,” he explains. In addition, delivery vehicles were not allowed inside the Welgevonden Game Reserve area and materials had to be offloaded at a storage yard, then transported several kilometers by small vehicles to the actual construction site. “The landscaping involved intensive establishment and a lot of hard work to achieve the desired natural appearance, but will become low maintenance once it gets back to nature,” says Derksen.

Text and photos by Karyn Richards.Sasha Tarnopolsky and John Jennings of Dry Design Inc., and Renzo Derksen of Real Landscapes are acknowledged for their input.

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