The home that Julie Alexander-Lillie shares with her husband and two daughters in the suburb of Bergvliet, Cape Town, is surrounded by a generous garden whose soothing green and white palette is emphasized by occasional blues and unifying grays.
Most of the plants that Julie–the chief gardener–selects, are water-wise and low maintenance, to suit both this Mediterranean climate’s low summer rainfall, and her demanding work schedule at Shell International.
Photography by Marie Viljoen.
Above: In mixed borders indigenous and exotic plants meet to create a restful backdrop for a busy family life.
Above: Of her color choices, Julie says, “I am mostly here in the evening, when the white is the most beautiful.” Pale petunias, Cape fuchsia, and lilies come alive as dusk falls. And rejuvenating green is the color she likes most.
Above: Clipped hedges of fragrant confetti bush with needle-y leaves and formal balls of feathery wild rosemary are a frame for lanky long-stemmed flowering perennials like agapanthus and society garlic. Naming Paul Bangay as one of her inspirational garden thinkers, for “the simplicity, structure and symmetry in his garden design,” Julie maintains this rhythm throughout her garden, where stone terraces echo the low lines of the hedges.
Above: Julie says that trimming these formal elements is a favorite chore, as it helps her “to appreciate each plant individually…and gives a good platform for new growth the following season.” She cites Stellenberg, a renowned Cape Town garden, as another influence, with its “balance of structure with more chaos inside.” And she has clearly inherited the green thumb of her mother, Marianne Alexander, a garden author and leaver of gifts of “interesting plants,” at the family’s garden gate.
Above: In defiance of the anti-lawn lobby, mown grass is celebrated in this garden, even if weeding it is her least appealing chore. That is what happens when you are married to a former cricketer and active sportsman. Craig Lillie and their girls use the wide lawn for at-home cricket games, and only occasional balls land in the swimming pool.
Above: Julie’s career with Shell International requires frequent overseas travel. Back at home, her weekend hours of gardening, she says, “give me the opportunity to express my creativity, which is something not easily afforded in my daily job as a finance professional.”
Above: She has creativity to spare. She built the wooden trellises that turn a narrow passage behind the home into a vertical garden, and hung hanging baskets stuffed with seasonal annuals. If a support is needed in the vegetable garden, she makes it. “It is sometimes quicker and easier to do things myself.”
Above: The kitchen garden that runs alongside the house is separated from the main garden by a pretty picket fence, made by Julie’s father to prevent their voracious pet tortoise from decimating the edibles within.
Above: Rhubarb provides the ingredient for Craig’s seasonal family favorite. The couple shares cooking duties, with Craig on weeknight shifts and Julie cooking at weekends.
Above: Julie says that it was important to create a planted space “that is an extension of the home where the family can spend time together.” The covered patio, furnished with comfortable wicker furniture, and a dining table, is filled with roses and potted succulents, and transitions effortlessly to the garden beyond.
Above: An inviting swing hanging from a sturdy branch is “the most-used part of the garden,” says Julie. The permeable paving in the shade beneath is planted with mondo grass, which withstands scuffing feet.
Above: With the help twice a month of her gardener, Olofati (who prefers that his last name not be used), Julie keeps this family garden going strong and working hard, providing space to play, opportunities to create, inspiration for the kitchen, and the most important element of all, a beautiful context in which to take a deep green breath, and relax.
For more of Marie’s favorite gardens in Cape Town, see:
- Garden Visit: My Mother’s Garden in South Africa.
- Under the Radar: A 5-Star Garden in Cape Town.
- Citizen Farmers: A Visit to Oranjezicht City Farm.