Men started tilling the soil to feed not only themselves, but passing Company ships, soon as the Dutch East India Company arrived in 1652. Their labours were not nearly enough to supply the rapidly growing settlement and trade ships, and it wasn’t long before 300 slaves were landed and put to work in the gardens on the lowest slopes of Table Mountain.
One third of the fruit and vegetable patch they originally planted is still used as a park in the centre of the city, and its name reminds us of its origins; ‘The Company’s Garden’. The history of these gardens is palpable and at the lower end of the garden, an oak tree has grown around an old water pump, and engulfed it in an arboreal embrace. If the oak tree was there when the pump, dated 1842, was connected, it has taken about 150 years for this tree to swallow the pipe leading to the well below.
But even older than that is a steeply leaning saffron pear tree, believed to date from the time of the first settlement. Its main trunk is long dead, but side arms arose around the parent tree, which are today supported to keep it from falling down. It’s strange to think that this plant has survived for about three and a half centuries.