side view onto project

My story starts with a moment I didn’t capture on film, but which 16 years later still enraptures me. I had taken a photo of the stream at Bodnant Gardens in Wales, tall old trees on the banks, streamside ribbons of green, a few red flowers (what? perhaps they were yellow ligularia…) As I dropped my camera there tiptoed out onto the rocks across the stream a little girl of  perhaps seven or eight, dressed in red and pink, her arms out to balance her. Before I could lift my camera again, she had crossed. As I remember, I asked her to go back and do it again, smiling apologetically at her parents, but the spontaneity was lost and the final photo disappointing.

Element one of The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe: children must play in it, lost in a fantasy world.

fibonaccispiral fibonac_8

Element two, and the one I knew I could never make work convincingly on my budget – I am fascinated by the Golden Rectangle and its relation to the Fibonacci spiral and Fibonacci numbers  (see  and   Or just  do a Google Image search for “fibonacci sequence in nature”as I did for these illustrations. The pictures will give you a pretty good idea of what this is all about… and why the gardener/ designer/ spiritualist/ philosopher in me is fascinated by the subject.)


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I wanted to try to make Fibonacci work for me; last year I met an American girl who was going to be studying Landscape Design and who wanted some hands-on experience whilst she was here. I gave her a pack of references, showed her the site and asked her what she could come up with. She went off days later, leaving me with a few charming and evocative sketches, but I think she thought me  a little touched.

Photographed in my own garden last week, no thought of Fibonacci on my mind!
Element three: near where Croft Cottage is today there were two massive  Eucalyptus  trees of an unusual species. They had the nasty habit of dropping huge branches from up high, each  the size of a decent tree. I once watched one fall… those trees had to go; but their going was slow. Two contractors abandoned the job, the second leaving one  tree leaning perilously into another. A third contractor managed to drop the trees successfully, but absconded before cutting the huge trunks, over a meter in diameter and many meters long. Last year a man who walked barefoot and drank a bottle of brandy neat on the job every day cut the trunks into ‘manageable’ discs. Well most of the trunks. panorama 2

  I decided to use these discs like stepping stones in the garden at the end of the front door axis, One would step along them and look down on a sea of plants one would normally look across at in a border. And the child with the outstretched arms was there in my mind.

Main axis

Now let us take a look at the site. The main axis of the garden runs from the front door down past the Ellensgate Garden and through Alfred’s Arches before forming a stage at the head of the Rosemary Terrace. There, at the moment, it stops.

Looking down the axis Looking back up the axis
    Looking first down and then up the axis. The photos were taken on my return to the farm on 5 April,
a wet afternoon, and the dogs are eager for their first walk of the month. I am not being obliging…

Main axis side view

Side view of the axis; the hedge at the top end of the Rosemary Borders is only just protruding beyond Alfred’s Arches, the Salic cuprea arbour over the path.  The Ellensgate Garden is mainly hidden behind the two junipers that frame the start of the path. The pillars at the head of the steps are matched by two pillars either side of the front door – they feature in this photograph.

bottom of axis

The end of the axis is marked by a black rubber dustbin, let into the ground some 9 years ago to be the reservoir for a simple spout fountain that would sparkle in the view from the front door. Recently we laid on electricity to this point and the project can now be completed. But how to continue from here? There have been many ideas over the years. What ever happened next, the path would need to take a turn around the spout. Few of us are sufficiently in touch with our inner child to walk across an enema.

Stand at this point. Ahead is an off-centre semi-circle, dense to the right, fronted by the wonderful pale trunks of Pride of India (Lagerstroemeria indica) Straight ahead an ancient apple and a purple crab have clearable scrub beneath them. To the left there is lawn and  the view opens up towards the Makou Dam, but there are three Liquodambers kept coppiced to give an impression, along with some bedraggled spiraea, of finishing off the semi-circle. Take a look again at the picture above the axis shots to see this. Planning steps at spoutToo formal- one of the main reasons this area has taken 8 years to develop further.

Recently I stood astride the sunk dustbin, the silliest thing anyone can have in their garden, and wondered  how (the hell) I was going to make it all work. Whatever happened at this point would be of forced symmetry, at best vaguely semi-circular, yet this was where I was contemplating enforcing the perfection of Fibonacci on the terrain. No wonder my American thought me daft and apologetically came up with something very interesting, but only slightly like I had asked for… Since her suggestions  I had decided on the stepping stones, and pictured, vaguely, a curving set of steps going off to the left from the axis and flowing round into a sort of spiral within the semi-circle.

As I stood contemplating, a very lovely sunset developed, and it happened to reflect in the Makou Dam, and I happened to think that it would be very lovely if there was a sheet or two of water between me and the dam to bring the reflection closer.

4338595313_a895cf4fc7 I know it IS the 1st of April as I write this, but I promise you, I’m not having you on. Really not. I looked down the length of this lowest of the terraces and I thought about water and reflections and a picture of a very beautiful garden came into my mind and I thought ‘not like that, but rather like that’ and so I went inside (much to the dogs’ disgust) and searched through my many linear meters of books for the picture of it I knew I had. I searched and searched. I did not find the picture immediately.

But I found enough to realise that it was the garden at Shute House, designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe . More importantly, I discovered that there actually was an entire book devoted to the garden, and that it was available from the USA at $1.45, second-hand. So in due course the book arrived. I spent an agonising hour prizing apart the water-damaged pages (only very minor losses as they on the whole parted company cleanly) and then I could read all about Shute House in great detail. But that, I guess, really is a subject for another post. What is important here is that water had entered into the equation – and that I could almost certainly get it on site by pipe from Freddy’s Dam, there already being a pipe feeding the Waterlily Pond, which could be extended.

Last week I arrived back on the farm just before lunch with assorted shopping and a trailer load of old tyres to go into the soak-pit which will complete Croft Cottage’s sewerage system. At which point the Bell Loader arrived and parked behind me. He’d been working in the pine plantations, moving the cut logs and loading them onto the trucks. My staff had negotiated with him to come and help move the huge eucalyptus discs. They knew what a task it would be without the Bell… Well to cut a long story short, little over an hour later all the biggest and many of the smaller discs had been moved, several put on site in their final position, the Bell operator using his massively strong and incredibly manoeuvrable vehicle in such a way that one thought of an elephant using its trunk.

bell loader at work loading
unloading near the site dropped off discs

He was swinging those huge slabs to just where I wanted them, then putting them down facing as I requested. And so I found myself looking down on the semi-circle again on Wednesday evening, contemplating the newly installed curve of ‘stepping stones’.

I walked along them, exploring not only the inner child, but checking how aging gardeners would manage the ungainly hop. I wondered about a seat, for suddenly the area had a magic I had not noticed before. And I wondered about integrating the water into the spiral. And then I went home and prepared for payday, and coming to Johannesburg.

And thus we find ourselves on Thursday afternoon en route, with time to think, So I put my mind to the water issue. And as I told you in my previous post, things then happened fast… I thought of children, and I thought of the strange flattened-out spiral of  vaguely circular tree stumps and I thought of contrasting a counter-spiral of water, and I thought of the perfection of a Fibonacci arrangement, and how “sort-of” everything about the topography was, and the name came to me in a flash, and with it the whole solution… The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. quick planI stopped the car and drew a quick schematic drawing, to make certain it could all work: middle left the end of the axis where the spout is, with the steps above; circles of ‘stepping stones’, and the line of the chute.

Sequoia garden map

 Perhaps a map will be of value at this stage! The front door axis is shown in red, with the half moon representing The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe. The broken line shows the edge of the property. The new visitors’ parking is indicated – come and see the garden for yourself!

A The Big House N The Old Barn (Die Ou Skuur)
B Ellensgate Garden O Croft Cottage (still under construction here)
C White Garden P The Long Border
D Anniversary Garden Q Makou Dam
E Big Lawn R The Arboretum
F Alfred;s Arches (willow arbour over path) S Park Lane
G Upper Rosemary Border T (marked Y Sad smile) The Avenue
H Rosemary Terrace – the most obviously formal part of the garden, especially when seen from the visitors’ entrance ‘L’. U The Circle Route – a comfortable walk on a drivable road,on a gentle contour around the two dams. About 800m long.
I Lower Rosemary Border – with a rosemary hedge along its entire length. V Freddy’s Dam. The Bridge is at the V.  The House that Jack Built looks onto  this dam.
J Site of the planned new reflective pools on the lowest terrace. W The Waterlily Pond. Could also have been marked U as the Circle Route  passes here.
K The Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe X Beech Borders axis With a bit of imagination the line between here and ‘U’ can be seen.
L New visitor’ entrance  ; from here you can easily explore the formal gardens or take the Circle Route ‘U’ to explore the wilder parts of the garden or the arboretum (R to T). Y Site of the planned Mothers’ Garden and Old Rose Garden (to be moved here from the Rondel Garden – off pic to the right.) The Mothers’ Garden, commemorating my and Louis’ moms, is due to be started soon.
M Vegetable Garden Z The Sequoia Avenue


  1. What a delightful idea… I have been transported by your descriptions.
    What is the brightly coloured star shape in the pic of the side view of the axis and i the first pic of the post?

    • Hmmm. I must stop grousing about what my garden is costing me. Imagine the cost of a project like this! Every rock paletted and delivered individually, needing at least three heavy vehicles and their operators, all of this in a first world economy… But what a fascinating project, and blog. I shall keep track of progress! Thank you, Diana,

  2. Jack, I love this vision that imagines a garden as people will move through it — both the playful girl with the outstretched arms and the elderly visitors that might need a place to stop and sit and look around while they catch their breath. All feeling the magic in their own way.

    • 🙂 Thank you, Jean. As I said to Diana – I find this project so exciting. It is the first serious development, as opposed to refinement, in the garden in five years. Although there are two more less radical ones that will get under way this winter.

  3. Wow, Jack! Yet another aficionado and admirer of spirals! The new garden sounds indeed fascinating.I still hope to be hopping when I make it!!!! Question: Jack, how on earth do you have time for a vegetable garden??

    • I hadn’t thought of it, Bonny, but you are right: Moosey and I are both busy with spiral-based symbolic gardens at the moment! The vegetable garden is my foreman’s baby, one of his passions. And I’m only too willing to be funding it!

      • Oh, Jack. Had planned to be, if not the first, certainly soon in visiting. However. Even with many, many, many pennies – it still looks not to be enough. Very hard dream to let go of, not getting to come to Africa.

      • Ah Bonny Dear – is not the wonder of the internet that we can at least pay VIRTUAL visits… I will be thinking of you as I walk through my garden over Easter and photograph for my blog… watch out for the coded messages!

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