Leon KlugeElephant-proof garden at Singita Boulders

This was one of my favourite projects to date, although the hectic deadline was not so favorable. I had only two and a half weeks to design and install the gardens for Singita Boulders, one of the world’s most exclusive African safari lodges, a holiday retreat for personalities like, Oprah, Charlize Theron, Reeba Mcyntire and Kelly Clarkson.

Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa27Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa22Singita Boulders is situated in the heart of Sabi Sands, one of the most prestigious reserves in Africa. It’s true Africa, with golden savanna, thorn trees and dry river beds.

This super luxury lodge is completely hidden away in the surrounding dry landscape, blending in so well that if you arrive at the lodge, it seems as if you are being dropped of in the middle of nowhere. But following a small narrow decking pathway you arrive in a champagne lounge and you realize that this must be the gateway to heaven.

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Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa17Sabi Sands is known as one of the best places on earth to view any of the cat family, such as lions, leopards, wild cat and cheetah, and saw them we did……a lot! While busy working in the garden, you would just hear a soft whisper in your ear by one of the rangers, saying,

“Sit still, she is right in front of you”.

Slowly looking up I could see the big female leopard drinking water in the pond 3m away from where I was planting some cyperus grasses. That’s an experience that is so precious, and that no money could ever buy you.

When it came to the the job at hand, the design brief was specific: blend in with the natural surroundings, use local endemic plants, and it has to look like the area has never been disturbed.

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Aloe chabbaudii with Eragrostis curvula

Sounds simple, but let me tell you, finding local endemic plants for this area of Africa was like looking for a coconut palm in Iceland. It took me adding 5000 km on the car clock, and begging locals in the area to buy some of their garden plants, to get the grand effect that the lodge was expecting.

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Euphorbia tirucalli with cor-ten steel ‘boulders at Singita Boulders

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There are 2 major factors to consider when gardening in the wild African bush. First of all, there’s the herbivores that just love munching away on newly planted green goodies. The critters vary from the cutest tiniest tortoise to the massive and majestic African elephant – that, by the way, are not so delicate when their whole family decide to take a stroll through the garden, flattening everything with their oversized feet, and there is nothing you can do about it but stand and watch.

Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa11Secondly, there is absolutely no water available for irrigation, and the dry periods with no rain last for about 6 months. In short, the plants need to be tough as nails.

Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa24The entrance to the lodge was done with Aloe chabbaudii mixed with bright green Eragrostis curvula grass to soften the strong architectural shapes of the aloes. The main feature plants at the entrance are extra large, almost tree-sized Euphorbia tirucalii. I planted them with the high hope that their poisonous sap will be a deterrent for the elephants not to knock them over.

The massive overflow ponds had a variety of Juncus and Cyperus to attract even more of the stunning birdlife to the lodge.

Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa9The giant Jackalberry trees that poked through the breakfast decks were filled with one of the local Orchids, Anselia africana, also called the leopard orchid, that gives a spectacular show and scent in winter with yellow and brown spotted chains of fragrant flowers.

Elephants at Sabi SandsSingita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa12Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa13At the main viewing decks where you could see newly born elephant calves playing in the Sabi river in the morning and a massive herd of 500 buffalo wandering through the sandbanks in the afternoon, we used massive 4m tree aloes (Aloe barbarae) to give that dramatic effect and Setaria grass to soften the masses of hard elements in the camp.

Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa25The reason for so many local grasses is that the seed-capsules are a important source of nutrients in the dry months, and attract lots of birdlife during that time.

Also when the herbivores munch away on the grass leaves, it will take only 2 weeks for most of the grasses to recover, whereas other shrubs and ground covers would take a massive knock.

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We obviously had some arty elements in the garden such as a 4 tonne metal sculpture at the entrance to the lodge, made out of 3 thick separate aged metal plates cut in the shape of boulders as the reference to the name of the lodge.

We played around with everything natural that we could find in the surroundings, including lots of rock and dead tree stumps to create screens and backdrops.

Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa18The road to the lodge was a tedious one. It’s a 5 hour journey everyday on a tiny one-track road that can better be described as a moonscape than anything resembling a road in any way shape or form, filled with unexpected surprises such as cows or goats that were sunbathing in the road, and no amount of hooting or shouting will move them an inch………

Singita Boulders, Sabi Sands, South Africa29Will I do it again?……… In a heartbeat, as doing what I love in the heart of the African wild bush must surely be one of the most magical experiences out there…


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Leon Kluge

About Leon Kluge

Leon Kluge is an award-winning landscape designer who was part of the successful South African team at Chelsea in both 2010 and 2012, and the Gardening World Cup in Japan in 2011, and then won a Gold medal at the 2013 Cup. Leon is known for his modern, contemporary landscapes, sustainable community projects and his specialisation in vertical gardens. His company Leon Kluge Landscape Design is based in north-eastern South Africa.

2 thoughts on “Elephant-proof garden at Singita Boulders

  1. Elephant-proof gardens. And here’s me fretting about brush turkeys and bandicoots! Beautiful plant combos as always, Leon. I really like the look of the stiff, spiky aloe rosettes with the billowing grasses.

  2. Fascinating to hear about the unique challenges of landscaping in Africa. I really enjoyed this post, thanks Leon. I dream that one day I might be able to to stay at Singita Boulders.

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