A walk around Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a soothing experience, but it can be so much more when a few background stories have been unearthed…
We have to thank Cecil Rhodes for this patch of land, purchased in 1895 as part of his plan to preserve the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, which he bequeathed to the nation on his death in 1902. Professor Harold Pearson was instrumental in establishing the National Botanical Garden in 1913 and if you find his grave you will see a poignant epitaph inscribed, ‘If ye seek his monument, look around.’ Near the enchanted forest, where you can have a ‘Lord of the Rings’ moment in a sub-tropical arboretum of over 450 species of trees and where you’ll find the Colonel Bird’s Bath, sometimes erroneously referred to as Lady Ann Barnard’s bath, but she did her skinny-dipping at the Castle in the late 1700s, not here! (Watch out for this story.)
On the stepped hillside surrounding the oldest part of the gardens is a dell of tree ferns surrounding an amphitheatre of ancientness. This arena contains cycads hundreds of years old. Some of these prehistoric species developed spikes during the Jurassic Period to stop dinosaurs trampling on them. Look for the cycad caged for its own protection. Encephalartos woodii is a male and no female plant of this type is known to exist.
Luckily, it can be propagated from offshoots, so it does have a future, but the cage is there to stop enthusiasts and smugglers from stealing new side shoots from this very singular plant.
Lindile Ben, Cape Grace Florist, suggests you look out for the last of the season’s red, yellow and orange pincushion proteas and elegant strelitzias (bird of paradise flower) in Kirstenbosch.
Blue dwarf agapanthus are coming out now and indigenous pelargoniums are showing off their early summer purple and pinks. Wild iris congregate near the entrance in a display of subtle white and iridescent sunbirds can be seen feeding on red tubular ericas on the high ground. Look out too for eagle owls fledging their young on the horseshoe path above the cycads or perching on the enormous Camphor trees near Gate 1. Take a virtual tour of the garden and start planning your next visit.
Tell us about your favourite Kirstenbosch spots in the comments section.