Let’s go al fresco!

Sarah Curtis-Bowles and her husband John transformed an unkempt back garden into a stylish and tranquil space.

set 2 fresco

By Marian van Wyk
Photographs Justin Patrick


WHERE Oranjezicht, Cape Town
SIZE 56m2


When Sarah and John bought their Oranjezicht home in February 2009, the back garden was in a sorry state. “There was an old broken braai, a tatty washing line, an ugly storeroom – and non-existent drainage!” says Sarah.

The garden consisted of two areas separated by a wall: a small courtyard off the kitchen and a bigger back garden where a pond is located. The pond with an ivy-clad wall behind it was just about the only thing the couple liked about the backyard. “And the tall trees and shrubs lent a sense of privacy,” adds Sarah.

For years, Sarah had envisaged an eight-seater outdoor dining table but large built-in planters meant there was simply no space. But now, thanks to her creative flair, the couple has managed to create plenty of additional space – and not just in the garden.

“Now that we’re done, we use this area as often as the Cape weather allows. On wind-free days, we love having a Sunday lunch or evening drinks in our back garden, while Coffee, our rescue puppy, loves ‘fishing’ in the pond,” says Sarah.

set 1 fresco

The back garden has two levels differentiated by two types of paving: stone pavers with groundcover in-between and pavers in cement.

Sarah and John love their outdoor shower, which is conveniently situated close to the guest bedroom. “It’s also brilliant for washing the dog,” she says. A mirror in a small alcove creates the illusion of a window.

set 3 fresco

This sheltered nook is Sarah’s favourite coffee spot.

Sarah’s tips for a stylish back garden
• A green wall featuring a creeper such as ivy or jasmine really makes a difference to a small inner city garden, especially if there’s no lawn. It’s a great way to add greenery, albeit vertically, so you don’t miss it underfoot.
• Lay stone pavers with groundcover in-between for a natural feel if your space is too small for a lawn.
• Mirrors add interest and create the illusion of space in a small courtyard or back garden; the one in our outside shower reflects the trees and shrubs on the other side and looks like a window into a secret garden.
• Solar-powered fairy lights are great for ambience in the evening.
• A couple of pots with flowering plants or herbs add fragrance and colour.

Renovation 1

• An unattractive storeroom was incorporated into the main house as a study and then later converted into a guest room.
• At this point, the garden was still divided in two and the couple placed a table and chair in the smaller courtyard off the kitchen. “We planted lavender in the built-in planters in the bigger back garden. It was all very charming at the time.”

sarah 333

Before the renovation

Renovation 2

• The gigantic date palm in the small kitchen courtyard was removed.
• The small courtyard was converted into another living area attached to the house.
• The cement planters and lavender were removed.
• Because the back garden flooded in winter, paving was removed and the garden dug up so new sewerage pipes and drainage could be installed; the original pipes had collapsed.
• The back garden had two levels. “We decided to keep it like that for interest but used different paving to differentiate between the levels.” On the lower level they laid stone pavers with groundcover in-between. Cement pavers were used on the upper level where the table is so the chair legs don’t get stuck in grooves.
• The couple added an outdoor shower with an elevated wooden deck.
• At one point they contemplated replacing the pond with a small plunge pool. “But the pond is so charming that we just didn’t have the heart to remove it,” says Sarah. “Besides, the wind blows so often in summer that the pool would always be full of leaves.”


During the process of renovating