An architect and a full-time scholar of nature


An architect and a full-time scholar of nature

Wallace Honiball tells MICHÈLE MEYER how he integrates two beloved fields of study.


WE meet early in the morning in Pretoria, in front of a client's home in the leafy suburb of Strubenkop. The city experienced a Highveld tantrum last night. Lightning whiplashes, rumbling thunder and driving rain. Steam hovers above the tarmac. I smell tree bark and peat.


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Take it slowly

Garden projects are not like building projects with a target date. A garden takes at least five years to grow into itself. You plant an ecology and must anticipate how it will look in a year, five, 10, 20," says Honiball. “I did these structural changes and garden layout in August 2020. The structural work has long been completed and in use but the landscape vision at the time is only now being realised.


Honiball points out where a set of awkwardly constructed stairs right in front of the house has been replaced. Now elegant Rustenburg black granite steps rise between en masse agapanthus. With each step up, he points out mainly endemic plants in the spacious, sloping beds. The botanical names enchant like spells. Chlorophytum krookianum. Combretum microphyllum. Haplocarpha scaposa.


The view of the adjacent, unspoilt, fenced hill is breathtaking, removed from the capital's heartbeat. The back garden is, among other things, overgrown with a forest of young native trees and grasses, typical of the region. “Next to fynbos, grasses are the most biodiverse plant kingdom. It stretches from here to Tanzania."

The old kidney-shaped swimming pool is now a delightful natural pool with aquatic plants acting as a filter. “My client's children swim here, like farm children in a dam, and climb the hill … it has become an extension of the garden."


Best of both

I studied landscape architecture in my first year at the University of Pretoria but wanted to do architecture. In my second year I was able to switch to pure architecture. The three directions of that school, architecture, landscape architecture and interior architecture, teach you to understand scale. Scale of buildings, outside, inside.

“I now realise that every one of my student days' buildings was designed from a landscape perspective … they were always halfway into the ground. My craving for landscape was always there.


Eight years later, professionally registered as an architect, I went to New York, hoping to work there. I couldn't find a job, so I travelled on my girlfriend's couch for two months.

I remember sitting in her window thinking: okay, what now? My father's an architect, I know what that life entails. It's very fulfilling but I knew I had to make plants a formal part of my skill set.

I heard about a postgraduate landscape architect course at the University of Cape Town. I then got admission to obtain my master's degree in landscape architecture there. I learnt to design buildings for plants, now I wanted to try the opposite. How could I do landscape and then take architecture back to it?”

Exposure and observation


Studying gives you time. I had two years to immerse myself in my interest. Our first year was totally focused on the outdoors. We had to go and climb mountains to learn about plant systems, plant names … stuff I knew about, but now that was my focus. It was special to be able to learn from the unique fynbos kingdom. I learnt the value of walking and pausing in the field.

After that degree I wanted to get exposure in landscape. And I actually got a job with a firm from Johannesburg that sent me to Namibia for a year. I thought it was crazy, but let's do it!

The client was a Russian who wanted a garden in the desert, an hour outside Windhoek. The budget was astronomical. There, on a Friday, you get into the nearest bakkie; everyone has a game farm or campsite, or knows someone with access to one. I was able to observe the field and surroundings and continued what started in the Cape with my hiking in these wild places.

It makes a difference to pay attention to where and how things grow … one day this will become inspiration again. Of course, one does not only work with fynbos, succulents, grasses or trees. You will never know everything, you are dependent on plant growers and specialists. You try your best, always by observing and learning.

It took years to realise what I had to offer. My ability is versatility with integration between architecture and landscape, on a small or large scale. I have a client with four plant containers on his balcony but I also do Wolwespruit Park's gardens and field rehabilitation in Erasmuskloof, Pretoria. I remain a full-time scholar of nature."

♦ VWB ♦

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