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Garden Design

Building the Living Beehive

Leon Kluge

Leon Kluge

July 31, 2012

This was one of my most challenging projects to date, Why? Well, Because it hasn’t been done yet. My brief was: create a garden that would be politically acceptable to all parties (and we all know politicians…), represent Kwazulu Natal (a province in South Africa), represent the local endemic flora of Durban, the people and the connection between nature and engineering.

What a mouthful… Where to start? And where is my gin and tonic?

It took me a few sleepless nights, but finally an idea made its gracious appearance, and the concept design was born. The garden was called the ‘Living Beehive‘, and would be placed in the Durban Botanical Gardens as a heritage garden to remember the COP 17 climate change conference that took place in Durban.

The design was based on the traditional zulu beehive hut, that is a universally recognised symbol of the Zulu tribe based in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.

Engineering is a integral part of society and promotes the development and well being of the human race, thus we need to combine it with nature in order to create greener urban living, and healthier eco systems. The structure was well engineered and areas of the steel structure were exposed to showcase the engineering aspect of the project.

The Kwazulu Natal mountains and grasslands have no shortage of interesting and amazing plants, from clivias to cycads, streptocarpus to agapanthus, all well known and internationally used plants, but growing wild in our backyard, and I wanted to show case all the celebrities of our kwazulu natal plant kingdom to the world. Why not – if you have it, flaunt it! And so we did.

To showcase our grasslands we grassed the roof of the beehive with a wide range of amazing wild grasses and grassland plants that occur within the hills around Durban. And to show all the cliff hanging plants, (that nobody ever sees because, let’s face it, the cliff’s edge is not where you go walk with your dog), we vertically greened the walkways within the beehive with all of the weirdest goodies we could find, giving the illusion of a typical cliff face around Durban, using plants, for example, like Crassula species, cliff aloes, albuca, begonia, impatiens, etc.

I love shopping for plants; I guess that must be how a woman feels when she goes shoe shopping – absolutely fabulous!

The ceiling of the beehive was also greened with creeping and rambling plants planted in a continuous spiralling container that ran from the roof down to ground level, using Senecio tamoides, Plectranthus species, asparagus and Rhipsalis, only to name a few, to form a chandelier of foliage hanging from the ceiling.

The plants are growing, some much faster than others, but all good things come to those who wait…

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11 years ago

Hi Leon
I would far prefer to buy plants than shoes – each plant purchase is another reason to stimulate the brain, especially if like me, you have to think at the point of purchase where the plant is to go [ my garden is full].
Your beehive is a fascinating project.

Catherine Stewart
11 years ago

I love shopping for plants AND shoes. I once saw a nursery in Qld that had a shoe/handbag shop as part of the complex. My dream world……
But I digress – this is an amazing project and what a wonderful construction video. The team look like they really enjoyed it all. Is there an automated watering system hidden away in that framework?

James Beattie
James Beattie
11 years ago

Hi Leon,

I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts – this beehive project looks mighty impressive.

It’ll be good seeing a South African take on gardening and design as many of the plants that grow well here in my native city of Melbourne are SA in origin (which, unfortunately, includes many weeds!).

And welcome to GD.

Leon kluge
11 years ago

The whole of the dome is drip irrigated, the roof, the walls the planters and the ceiling, all excess water are channeled back to a resevoir where it is used again, and again. The irrigation is just hidden away and not noticed.

11 years ago

Kin hell what a sight to behold Leon.
Now i feel like that pergola i have just built needs to be just a bit better.
It must give you a woodie when you see such a great thing finished super super .

10 years ago

Go Leon! Keep on with ya bad self!