Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Top entrance to Kirstenbosch Gardens
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are one of the beautiful places in Cape Town that one should visit.
Proteas part of the Cape Fynbos
The gardens were established by Professor Pearson way back in 1913 on land that was bequeathed to the nation by Cecil John Rhodes. The garden is unique in that it is the first botanical garden in the world to be established where only plants indigenous to its home country are cultivated. It is one of eight botanical gardens in the country covering five of South Africa's six biomes.
Ericas second part of the Cape Fynbos
Kirstenbosch gardens is situated in the centre of the Cape's Floral kingdom one of the smaller kingdoms in the world but the kingdom with the richest diversity of species. It has more than 7700 different species of plants which are mainly made up of the Fynbos “Fine Bush”. 70% of the species growing here are endemic to the area - that is, they are found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately many of them are threatened with extinction.
Restios third part of the Cape Fynbos
Table Mountain which overlooks the Kirstenbosch gardens has more species of plants on it than are found in the whole of the United Kingdom.
So what has Kirstenbosch got to offer the visitor?
Historic hedge planted by van Riebeeck in the early 1650's
Other than the visitors centre, a number of restaurants and shops and beautiful lawns visitors will come across thousands species of plants growing in the gardens that you will not normally see growing in the wild or elsewhere in the city.
Kirstenbosch Gardens slope downwards from the higher slopes of Table Mountain and are laid out over many hectares of ground. The upper reaches of the garden are planted with plants forming part of the Cape's fynbos which include three main families of plants, namely Proteas, Ericas, restios reeds and grasses.
Duck Pond near the bottom of the garden
There are hundreds of varieties of proteas, ericas and grasses making up the Cape Floral kingdom and many of them can be seen in the gardens. Not only fynbos is on display. Plants from Namaqualand and all over South Africa are grown and exhibited here. Kirstenbosch in some instances has the only living stock of some varieties that have died out in the wilds.
During the flowering season you will be amazed at the different flowers and colours you will see in the gardens. It is no fluke that exhibitors made up of a team from Kirstenbosch Gardens win gold at the Chelsea Flower show each year.
Cycads living dinosaurs
When the garden was established by Professor Pearson the first part of the garden he concentrated on was the cycads which in South Africa are also known as bread trees. These plants are known as the dinosaurs of the plant world having been around for a 100 million years. Unfortunately they have to be protected these days as they are very slow growing and cannot compete in the wild with other plants any more. They are also sought after by collectors and people have no qualms of taking them out of the wild to place in their gardens.
Colonel Bird's Bath
Close to the cycads one can find Colonel Bird's bath which is a small pond built in the shape of a bird. Legend has it that Lady Anne Barnard bathed in this bath but this is in fact not true as she had left South Africa by the time the bath was built. The bath with its very clear water which has no tannins in it is still in the gardens today and is surrounded by tree ferns and some large camphor and other trees. A little stream formed by water flowing from the bath meanders through the trees on its way to a duck pond lower down in the gardens.
Under the large trees one can find some interesting statues including three wooden statues of some very life like gorillas. They are aptly placed under a large wild fig tree which drops its fruit at their feet during fig season.
In the lower reaches of the garden is a circular walk and along this walk one can find the fragrance garden which has been especially laid out for people in wheelchairs and blind people. The signposting and labelling of the plants is in braille and people are encouraged to touch the plants and identify them by smell. A short way further on the circular walk one comes across the medicinal plants section which features plants that can be used for many ailments. Many of these were planted and used by the Dutch when they first arrived in the Cape in the 1650's.
Stage on which concerts are held
Scattered around on the many beautiful lawns in the garden are large oak trees. The trees tend to grow faster here in South Africa than in the colder northern parts of Europe so the trees will be pretty large and a whole lot younger than their northern neighbours. Oak trees are not endemic to South Africa but were introduced during the times of Simon van der Stel to be used for the making of wine barrels for the burgeoning wine industry. Unfortunately the wood of the oaks grown in the Cape was found to be unsuitable for wine making as it was too porous so the trees remain as reminders of times past.
As one wanders around the gardens you will come across a whole series of either stone or wooden sculptures. The stone sculptures are mainly made out of stone coming from Zimbabwe and are most probably allowed to be exhibited in the gardens because of Cecil John Rhodes who donated the land and who also had close ties with Zimbabwe the former Southern Rhodesia.
Carols by candlelight on the lawns
On Sunday evenings in the summer months concerts are held in the gardens. Many well known artists including Cliff Richard have performed at these concerts. There are no seats in the arena only a large lawn and thousands of people descend on this section of the garden with their blankets and picnic baskets to enjoy an evening of entertainment on the beautifully manicured lawns of Kirstenbosch. Carols by candlelight is which is staged around Christmas time is fantastic to behold as everyone lights their candles after dark and swings them in the breeze in time with the music.
Camphor Avenue which was once a main road
Sitting in the garden one would never know that there is a busy highway close by. In the gardens one cannot hear the sounds of the traffic moving by. Camphor Avenue a lane running through the gardens was once part of the rat race as it was the only road to Hout Bay in days gone by. When it was decided that it had to be widened to cater for the increased traffic the camphor trees planted by Cecil John Rhodes in honour of Queen Victoria were going to be uprooted. Fortunately sanity prevailed and the road was moved out of the garden leaving the beautiful Camphor avenue that people admire today.
Should you want to visit this garden you can do so daily, but you will have to pay an entrance fee to get in. Its about R40.00 at present for adults and less for children and students. Pensioners can get in free on Tuesdays and can purchase a discounted lunch at the Silver Fox restaurant from their pensioners menu.
For people from abroad or out of town who don't have their own transport there are tours that run to Kirstenbosch. The red bus is one way you can learn something about Cape Town and also see the Kirstenbosch Gardens. Tickets are obtainable in the V & A Waterfront from a kiosk near the Aquarium.