On the rocky hillside of Rexford, high on the hill, is ‘Shambala’, home of Mike and Pru Baker. The commanding view over the lagoon to the distant Outeniqua Mountains was the main reason why they bought the plot 14 years ago, but little did they know what challenges lay ahead in building their dream home and starting a garden from scratch. The coastal fynbos covered a multitude of under-lying problems: heavy clay and lots of rocks of which they were unaware. Coming from Bedfordview, Johannesburg, their knowledge of coastal plants, soil structure, and prevailing winds were non-existent, so they thought it wise to appoint a landscaper to design and construct the garden …the result was not what they expected as the chosen plants were not suitable for the terrain and the garden had to be re-done by Mike and Pru with the help of Mike Vlok.
Mike has since learnt through trial and error not to dig big holes in clay soil as it creates a ‘dam’ when filled with water: the consequence is root-rot and plants die off. They also learnt that not all indigenous plants are suitable, as many of the fynbos species are short lived and require a fair amount of water to keep them going in this ‘hostile’ environment. They soon discovered that succulents (some indigenous, some exotic) and aloes do well, giving much needed colour in spring and winter. Proteas endemic to the area, as well as Agave attenuata, Limoinium perezii, Cycas revoluta and Restios are thriving on the upper level of the steep plot.
Mike’s pride and joy is growing a Klapper bos (Nymannia capensis) from seed. This plant is notoriously difficult to cultivate near the sea as it is endemic to the Klein Karoo where the climate is dry and hot.
The huge rocks that were moved to create terraces are now covered with low growing vygies, the pockets in between are filled with echevarias, sedums, aloes, and kalanchoes, and the natural stone pathways are soften with Dymondia. The result is a pleasing landscape that is in harmony with its surroundings.
This garden sits well on the hillside; the carefully chosen plants provide nectar for a variety of sunbirds, the rocks provide shelter for wild life which in turn attracts the unusual gymnogene, forest buzzard and peragine falcons. Other visitors include Cape Cobra and Puff Adders, not to mention baboons coming down from Pezula! Mike and Prue have learnt in the last four years to live with nature, to observe and to emulate what nature has to offer; the result is a garden that they can enjoy and be proud of. They have now found their place of peace, tranquility and happiness, their mythical kingdom of Shambhala.
Text and Photographs: Esther Townsend