Size: 1215 m²
Location: 16 Higgo Road, Higgovale, Cape Town, Western Province
Nestled in the heart of Higgovale, Weaver’s Nest is the epitome of a lush, tropical paradise. With natural stone and water features cascading down a steep tree-lined slope, this one-of-a-kind residence posed a unique landscaping and architectural challenge the team stunningly overcame. Discover how the residential bird-hide of Weaver’s Nest became one of Cape Town’s most coveted listings…
Synonymous with the residence’s name, Weaver’s Nest sits suspended in a forest of beautiful trees above a rippling stream. Covered in huge granite boulders and dense vegetation, the site is situated in an exceptionally steep fold of Table Mountain, with spectacular views of the mountain face and Lion’s Head. The erf straddles a small valley which forms part of the Cape Town City Council (CTCC) drainage system. With the residence almost floating in mid-air, retaining a serene relationship with nature, the site is unquestionably unique. The site’s dauntingly steep topography and coursing water posed a number of challenges. But with its phenomenal setting, plethora natural features, and interlinked accommodation perched on two cross walls with views through the tree-top foliage, Weaver’s Nest made for an incredibly exciting project.
When the house was originally built by Sonja Petrus Spamer Architecture, it won a SAIA award of Merit for its light ‘footprint’ on the environment. The home is made from a number of separate structures, each one raised above the ground with minimal structural ‘tread’ on the earth. Both floors of the house sit way above ground, surrounded by tall trees, giving residents the sense of living in a forest. The original house was designed as two independent ‘pods’ on either side of the stream, connected by an open, elevated wooden corridor bridge at canopy height. One pod contained the living room and a bedroom, and the other another two bedrooms.
The client wanted to reimagine their newly acquired home by connecting the separate geometric ‘pods’ with a suspended dining room between them. The architect’s brief was to add this new dining room between the two pods without impairing the architectural integrity of the existing structure. Anton de Kock Architects created an adjoining bridge made out of steel, glass, and timber as opposed to concrete and bricks, seamlessly merging the two living quarters. The connection is tenuous and made entirely out of glass. Humble and subservient to the scale of the pods, the space floats above the ground, allowing residents to enjoy the garden from lofty heights. The rest of the home was renovated in a similar fashion using the most beautiful timbers, stones, and metals.
The landscaping component by Contours Design Studio formed a large part of the overarching renovation project and won a SALI Double Gold Award for Landscape Design and Construction. Despite the starting strengths of the site, the rest of the erf had not been developed after the original house was built, so it looked as if the old garden retaining walls were a hangover from the neighbouring property before it was subdivided. The brief was to create a tropical garden providing a lush green backdrop to the contemporary architecture of the house, whilst also celebrating the massive granite rocks that are as much part of the site as the steep slopes.
Another key component of the brief was to find a way to harness the water that flowed down the on-site drainage channels from time to time to create a permanent body of water. One of these channels is part of the CTCC stormwater drainage system and carries substantial amounts of water during a storm. It enters the site at the top and drains underneath the first ‘pod’ to exit at the bottom of the property. The quality of this water cannot be controlled. For example, if someone decides to wash paint buckets in the road above, this waste will eventually flow into the property. The second channel is an outflow channel from the waterworks above that releases water fairly regularly and without notice. This one enters one side of the property below the buildings, joins the first channel, and then exits at the same point. Therefore, the lowest reaches of the site were exceptionally wet and muddy, and overgrown with plants that had been left unattended for several years. It was hard to see the ground given the amount of growth, and the team felt, rather than saw, the ground when they squelched around the mud.
In addition to the drainage channels, one set of rocks on the south side of the first pod were partly obscured by accumulated mud. However, these had an intriguing knuckle quality about them — like a giant fist — and the client was very clear that these should be uncovered as far as possible with a pond flanking them on the lower side. The boulders were subsequently unearthed, exposed, and cleaned. The client envisioned the south-facing master bathroom suite to overlook this part of the garden below.
Given that the primary drainage through the site was right through the wet and muddy middle, with steep slopes on all sides, one of the key considerations was to improve access around the site in a way that one would keep one’s feet dry. To overcome this, the stream was tamed into manageable ponds, pools, and waterfalls, while many retaining structures were built to create terraces. The series of walls which cut across the valley at intervals down the site were clad in stone to connect them to the earth. Although they primarily serve as a design motif, bringing a sense of order to the otherwise uneven site, these terraces also provide the benefits of linking the two sides of the valley, doubling as bridges from one side of the water channel to the other, improving soil retention, functioning as weirs to dam the water, extra seating opportunities, as well as access points to planted areas.
The choice of hardscaping materials was determined by what was already on site. This meant sandstone was the material of choice for hard surfaces as well as the existing decking. One deck against the perimeter remained in place, while the second one was dismantled and repurposed as the central deck under the suspended dining room. Half of the boardwalk remained unchanged, so only a small portion of new boardwalk was installed to connect the old boardwalk to the newly positioned central deck.
The plant palette
Selecting the plant palette is always about weeding out the plants that don’t fit the vision and determining availability. In fact, this garden is still waiting for Gunnera manicata which has been commercially unavailable in the Western Cape since the drought in 2018. Since the site is variably shady and wet, and follows a lush tropical brief, the plants had to tick all these boxes.
The garden features Clivias, Cyatheas, Chlorophytums, three varieties of Plectranthus, two fern varieties, Acanthus mollis, and variegated Fatsia japonica. Large Schefflera arboricola and Philodendrons with Arthropodium cirratum cluster around the stairway descending to the storeroom from one end of the elevated walkway. The central area started out with Poganatherum paniceum interspersed with more Arthropodium cirratum, but these have now been replaced since a new spring has sprung, making the soil too wet for the former. Existing ginger and Canna plants were recycled back into the garden as well. The central deck was flanked primarily by existing tree ferns and Strelitzia nicolai with Mackaya bella and Jasminum multipartitum shrubs as additions. Ruellia brittoniana was an early settler which developed consistent powdery mildew before being removed after a year.
Closer to the water, the team planted Wachendorfia, Cyperus papyrus, Gunnera perpensa, Louisiana irises, and Berula erecta, along with a variety of water lilies in the deeper parts of the pond. Since then, Acorus gramineus has also found a home along the water’s edge. The foot of the giant rocks on the north side are flanked by a variety of soft Microlepia strigosa, Anthericum saundersiae, Veltheimia bulbs, existing Acanthus mollis, and large Strelitzia.
The high lookout point is shady and drier. This area is planted with primarily variegated Dianella tasmanica, Anemone japonica, Anthericum saundersiae, and Trachelospermum jasminoides. Astilbe plants pop up in the summer after winter dormancy. The verge is a repetitive combination of Trichilia emetica, Viburnum sinensis, Plectranthus ecklonii, Hypoestes aristata, Ligularia reniformis, and Dianella caerulea ‘Little Jess’. In addition to this plant list, the client had a collection of existing plants that needed to be accommodated, and some of the smaller palms were recycled into the garden. In fact, most of the trees already existed on the property with only six additional trees being planted on the estate. Specific attention to detail was paid to the colour and texture of the foliage, ensuring longevity of the garden allowing the plants to survive under local conditions.
The client’s original vision and creative touch are very much a part of the success of this garden and build. The brief was clear and set the trajectory for realising their ambitions. Another key to Weaver’s Nest’s success is the improved accessibility throughout the site. The pathways provide a close and intimate experience, allowing residents to appreciate the many faces and angles of the garden. Plus, perhaps most importantly, its accessibility makes it so much easier to manage and maintain!
A professional landscape management team nurtured the garden during its first two years after establishment. These sessions were accompanied by a detailed scope of work assisting with future management of what to prune and when once handed over to the client’s own care. The site is lush and richly textured, with shades of green that can be experienced from a distance or from up close as one wanders through the garden. Water is a major linking element throughout the garden and an element that all creatures are drawn to, creating that irresistible pull. The sound of birds and frogs plopping adds a dimension to the garden that is more subtle than flowers. The light falling through the tree canopies sets up movement even if one can’t feel the breeze.
The build was undertaken in four phases around the greater renovation project and took about eighteen months from beginning to completion. The higgeldy-piggeldy, wheel-barrow unfriendly, and highly tree’d site made the use of a crane mostly impossible, and so every item that had to be taken off site and every new item coming onto site had to be carried by hand. Therefore, moving heavy materials, specifically large rocks, was a particularly big challenge. Getting enough men around an irregular object was the problem. To overcome this, the landscapers invested in steel I-beams to ramp the rocks off the vehicle with a crowbar because there was no tipping room. They then used a very strong sling-like contraption which allowed eight men to get around one rock. It was hard work getting the rocks to the valley, but it worked!
The old garden had several incoherent stone walls that needed to be demolished. Had the site been crane or wheel-barrow friendly, the team might have considered cladding the new garden walls with contemporary hornfels or similar dark stone, but having large quantities of sandstone already on the site made the decision for them. Turns out it was a good decision because the sandstone brings a warmth to the black finishes of the house.
It is always tricky landscaping behind builders, as the complexities of managing many trades on-site can make it difficult to line up the ‘living’ materials efficiently. Keeping abreast of the construction timeline, and good communication between the construction and landscaping team is necessary. Knowing when to consult others experts in the field for their invaluable input, is also part of the long-term success of any project. It was clear that all parties were respectful of each other’s skills and working in the project’s best interests, not only their own scope of works, creating a successful end result. The symbiotic collaboration between the owners, the architect, the landscape designer, contractors, and various consultants resulted in a paradisal sanctuary at Weaver’s Nest.
MEET THE TEAM
Client: Francois Riley
Architect: Anton de Kock Architecture
Landscape Designer: Contours Design Studio, Lucy Schnell
Main contractor: Wayne Unser Construction
Engineer: Peter Wuim Consulting Engineers
Waterway design: Contours Design Studio and Clive Giliomee of Water in Motion
Plumber: ASA Plumbers
Electrician: LJ Taylor
Photographers: Nixx Milner and Lucy Schnell