How Henk Scholz, Landscape Designer and Artist, Curates His South African Garden
I met Henk Scholz, South African-based landscape designer and artist, on the street in front of his house as he was walking his whippet Cabby– a beautiful dog that looks like a work of art fit for a king’s garden.
When I spoke with Scholz on the phone to make an appointment to photograph his beautiful South African garden, he afforded me the opportunity to stay for a night in his house, so that I would have total insight into the life of a garden designer like him.
On his kitchen table, where we had a delicious dinner with two of Scholz’ close friends, he told me his story as we peered over botanical plans and offered me some precious advice for how to succeed in gardening.
Scholz grew up in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park, where he started to learn about gardening as a child, from his mother. When he was University age, he began studying computer science, but he soon realized that working with plants and art was his true calling, and upon this realization he was brave enough to switch paths and enroll to study garden design in Cape Town.
Today, Scholz’ work is revered throughout South Africa and France, where he designs domestic gardens, wine farms, and private residences, many of which he equips with his own artwork (including metal sculptures and ceramic works).
In his personal garden, he currently grows a variety of acacia, olive, viburnum, aloe, scilla, oleander, jasmine, sygygium, and much, much more– but his creativity is boundless and he often aims to take cues from nature rather than prevailing against it with his designs.
According to this personal philosophy, one should always observe the immediate environmental close to their home in order to accurately determine which plants will be the right ones for the garden. Scholz lived for two years at his home in the beautiful village of Franschhoek before he ever planted anything, which gave him ample time to observe and design his garden.
Scholz likes to keep his garden rather straight-laced: it looks clean-cut on first sight, but on further inspection it’s clear that the designer puts a lot of energy into the details, which reveal themselves as one spends time in the garden. For Scholz, too many different plants on one property doesn’t work because he feels it makes the garden look too busy. In his designs, he chooses fewer plants and applies them in a considered way to keep the garden work as simple as possible. (Which often means choosing not to plant exotics that won’t thrive under local conditions.)
A stroll through most neighborhoods in urban villages like Johannesberg and Cape Town reveals a local preference for gardens that honor foreign cultures. Scholz, however, only uses native South African plants so as to ensure that they can cope with the climate, soil, and little water that falls in the country. “Make peace with your immediate environment,” he says when I ask for the most valuable piece of gardening advice he can offer.
“Spend more time and money on soil preparation than on the plant material. Plant young, healthy plants before inserting large plants (sometimes you can get away with big trees),” he adds. “I think we like to plant everything that we like, but the implementation of a beautiful, well-thought out design is not always successful,” he adds, acknowledging his tendency to design with, rather than against, nature. The beauty of his gardens is a testament to this practice, where the power of his personal philosophy blossoms into gardens as beautiful as his own.