City-scaping Inspiration


By Mark Mac Hattie

Featured in Outside & In Magazine – Summer 2020

© Outside & In Magazine

Summer has arrived in the southern hemisphere and this half of the world is taking a slight sigh of relief as we start recovering from the Covid-19 global pandemic. Most of us have been able to adapt, while others have had to re-arrange their entire lives, from the way we go to school, meet with clients and socialise. What has kept up with this new way of life, strangely enough, are plants and garden supply sales. It seems that when we all became hermits, we brought the Outside, In.

Most of us city-dwellers have downsized to either apartments or more compact residences and with this, there is usually a loss of outdoor space. Say goodbye to the backyards and hello to the balcony.

But just because you have less space, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a cocktail in your own oasis or a coffee in your green space. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park:

“Life, uh, finds a way”.

Our need for wanting greenery around us is born out of comfort. Our prehistoric ancestors associated greenery with food; fertile ground meant life was flourishing and that it was a good place to settle. Technically, we are all cultivating a fertile environment for ourselves by greening our personal spaces.

So, now we know why we want to surround ourselves with plants, but how in the world do we do it when we have limited space? Typically, container planting is the way to go. This can be in-doors, your balcony, flowerboxes and vertical growing walls. In the age of the forced introvert, city-dwellers have descended on nurseries and plant shops globally. Almost everyone has acquired the knowledge on how to care for indoor specimens or certain plants. The infamous dead language of Latin is used so frequently on Instagram, a linguist could be excused for assuming Latin is well-spoken among plant collectors. Generally, most of the readers of this publication own at least 1-100 houseplants and in an effort to navigate the new world, to collect information – I posted in several plant lovers’ groups in South Africa for the members to showcase how they have transformed their various city spaces. The results have been fascinating and inspiring.


Rooftops and balconies are blessings for any apartment. However, in the City of Cape Town these are double-edged swords. They give you amazing views, the option to go outside and enjoy the sun, but our city gets quite windy, which means any and all soft-leaved plants won’t survive and your containers need to be large enough to withstand our famous South-Easter winds. And in winter a nice little North-western wind bathes us in rain. So, what can you plant? Extreme conditions call for the hardiest plants; enter your succulents, grasses and indigenous perennials.


Jeanne Huellenhagen from the Atlantic seaboard is fortunate enough to have a rooftop planter and balcony. The planter is filled with a beautiful collection of succulents and stone mulch (this type of mulch really helps as it doesn’t blow away and keeps the moisture in the soil.)

Her balcony is occupied by a vegetable garden, planted up in crates. This method is used more often than you think; they are lightweight to transport onto the site, have a long shelf life, and can be joined together and weighed down by stones. The use of the ever popular spekboom affords the veggies a decent windbreak.

Not as fortunate as Jeanne to have all that out- door space but lucky enough to have big windows and amazing light? Remember that light is one of the most essential elements needed to have healthy plants.

Photo: Jeanne Huellenhagen

Nicolette Smith combined a collection of Calatheas to create a lovely display in a well-lit corner of her home. The use of plants on top of cupboards and shelves is always a great way to liven up a space. Usually, a wall opposite a window is a great place for low light plants as Nicolette shows here.

But what if you have even less space, like only shelves and a mantle?

Ulrich Cronje and Mark Neame each shows us that it’s not the size of the space you have, but rather what you do with it. Mark also combined plants, books and art on a bookshelf to take advantage of the wall that is lit up by the opposite window.

Still want a beautiful space, but you realise you have even less space than this, because that’s city life, hey! Not to fear.

Zahra Effendi has taken advantage of almost every surface in her home to turn it into a little jungle. In the Western Cape, water has become a limited resource and having a bath seems excessive unless said bath is home to your plant collection. Low-light broad leaf plants work best in bathrooms that tend to get less light than the rest of a home – due to glazed windows.

Kitchens are another favourite place for plant lovers to display their collections. Zahra shows us how you can do it in a brightly lit kitchen.

Or perhaps you only have a planter box on your balcony.

Generally, they aren’t the best idea as they dry out quickly, the wind empties the contents and sky rats (pigeons) nest in them fairly easily. The key to a successful planter box (and personality) is depth. The deeper your planter box, the more moisture it can retain, and the happier your plants will be. Stick to the hardier plants, as they will be able to handle the extreme conditions.

Photo: Ulrich Cronje

Photo: Zahra Effendi

Photo: Nicolette Smith

Photo: Ulrich Cronje

With limited space, we are easily able to create the green spaces we desire. All it takes is some elbow grease, some good potting soil, a few life lessons and of course, a special place in our hearts for our plant babies.

© Outside & In Magazine

This article was first published in Outside & In Magazine – December 2020

“As is imitation to flattery, so is a landscape designer to nature. Being an avid user of the Mediterranean palette, whether it be plants, colours or textures, my mythical paintbrush is dipped in regions and I paint in themes.”



N.D. Landscape Design, B.Tech Landscape Design  Master's of Landscape Architecture

065 805 7346  | 021 300 3398 |

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