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Caterina Rancho

Inside the Garden of South African Artist Johannes du Plessis

Johannes du Plessis grew up in Karoo, a semi-arid desert region of South Africa where they have an absolutely different climate than the more frequently publicized Mediterranean climate of the South African wine region in Franschhoek. As a result, when the artist first began to approach the idea of gardening, he had to learn everything there was to know about the needs of the plants he chose to work with.

Johannes Du Plessis

Caterina Rancho

For du Plessis, nature would become a ideal corollary to the art he would explore in his professional work. He positioned his studio to face his personal garden so that he could be inspired by nature’s constant changes while creating a work of art. There is a plant in his garden that didn’t bloom for ten years, and then, one night he noticed from behind his aisle that it had produced a blossom overnight. The next day, it had withered– and that left a lingering impression on the artist, who realized in that moment just how possible it was to discover something new in the garden every single day.

Franschhoek, the surrounding wine-growers region of South Africa, was also a huge inspiration for the artist– so he designed much of his garden with old wine barrels. At the time of this interview, South Africa was also experiencing rampant wild fires, which struck du Plessis as being both beautiful and terrifying– so naturally, they became a point of inspiration in his work as well.

Johannes Du Plessis

Caterina Rancho

His garden, meanwhile, is home to a host of native plants, including brilliantasias, poor man’s orchids, crinums, succulents, angels’ trumpets, rabbit foot, and amaryllis. (If a fire were to burn his garden, and he could only save one plant, it would be the poor man’s orchid, he told me.)

Johannes Du Plessis

Caterina Rancho

Du Plessis knows the nuances of his garden very well. There’s a bullfrog that he watched grow up from a tadpole; he knows what kind of birds are eating in his gardens and he sometimes feeds them; he likes the snakes that live here, as they eat the snails that destroy the leaves of his beloved plants. But mostly, he reveres the serenity that the garden affords him on a daily basis when he’s in the studio making art– a reflection of and a compliment to the beauty that already surrounds him.

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