Sima Eliovson

Namaqualand in flower, 1972

Namaqualand in flower, 1972. Sima painted the cover

Sima (I always refer to her as Sima in my mind, as in: ‘The single point on which I disagree with Sima is Ceratotheca triloba, an indigenous foxglove of which she says that it ‘‘gives promise of a beauty not fulfilled”’. OK, that, and the scary pest control chapters and 6-page table of poisons in The complete gardening book for Southern Africa, but I can put that down to the book's Zeitgeist) was a contemporary of Joane Pim and Una van der Spuy, but there is no trace of the other in their respective written works. I have been told by a well-known botanist that the three - Pim and Eliovson in Johannesburg, Van der Spuy in the Cape - had a brittle, competitive relationship. Of Sima: ‘‘She was, of course, very special.”

Sima also wrote a beautiful book about Japanese gardening (which I've only had opportunity to glance through; the author photo shows her in a lovely kimono).

Sima followed it by what must surely have been a coûp: The gardens of Roberto Burle Marx, published posthumously. It is largely unknown in South Africa, devilishly difficult to find, and a seminal work on one of the most influential landscape designers of the 20th century.

Burle Marx visited South Africa for the September 1973 International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) conference where Sima met him and visited him at his Brazilian home the next year. They became friends, she visited him on a number of occasions and with his full cooperation (in his foreword to the book Burle Marx says: ‘‘I am very proud and honoured to have Sima write this book about my work”) she prepared her last, and possibly most famous, book.