Proteas and Bouquets — wine bouquets that is!

I had a wonderful afternoon ambling through the renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, set below the eastern slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Kirstenbosch was the estate of Cecil Rhodes.

The Cape Floral Kingdom of the region features over 3,000 exclusively indigenous plant species, including fynbos, proteas (the national flower), blooms beyond belief, and dinosaur era cycads.  Kirstenbosch is a rare treasure in a city of five million, and I learned so much on my stroll along the pretty winding pathways which guided me through one of the finest botanical gardens in the world.

Botanical gardens are living museums and Kirstenbosch contain collections of plants which are used for display, scientific research, and education, and play a vital role in the conservation of plant biodiversity. The mission of the garden is to promote the sustainable use conservation, appreciation and enjoyment of the rich plant life in South Africa.

Kirstenbosch is part of a country-wide network of nine botanical gardens administered by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. (SANBI).  SANBI also maintains plant reference collections at three national herbaria and is actively involved in research and environmental education. The internationally acclaimed Kirstenbosch is the flagship of SANBI and was established in 1913 to conserve and promote the indigenous flora.

Kirstenbosch is in the eastern foothills of Table Mountain.

The former estate that makes up the gardens was a gift by Cecil J. Rhodes to a friend, and today covers 528 hectares that also includes a cultural garden and a nature reserve.  The developed Garden (36 ha) displays collections of southern African plants including many rare and endangered species. 

These gardens include the Fynbos Garden, Braille Trail, and Fragrance Garden, Useful Plants Garden, and the Water Wise Demonstration Garden.  The Botanical Society Conservatory is a desert house which displays the succulent treasures of southern Africa, as well as collections of bulbs, ferns, and indigenous alpine plants from the Drakensberg Mountains, of which Table Mountain is the western terminus.

The Bontanical Society Conservatory preserves rare plants.

The Kirstenbosch Visitors’ Centre: The Centre houses the Kirstenbosch Shop and Botanical Society Bookshop, a coffee shop, Information Desk and the Old Mutual Conference and Exhibition Centre — a popular venue for botanical art exhibits and environmental events.  Kirstenbosch also houses the Gold Fields Environmental Education Centre, the Kirstenbosch Research Centre, The Centre for Biodiversity Conservation, the Covington Herbarium, and the Henry Moltano Library.

Kirstenbosch Shop: Browse for gifts in the shop (call: 021.762.2510), or enjoy a cup of coffee and a light snack at Café Botanica (call: 021.762.6841).  The Botanical Society Bookshop is located in the Kirstenbosch Shop (call: 021.762.1621).  The Old Mutual Conference Centre is in the Visitors’ Centre. The Silver Tree Deli is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., which is also available for functions and weddings (call: 021.762.9585).

After your stroll stop at Café Botanica for light snacks.

Centre for Home Gardening and Tea Room;  Situated at Gate 2; the centre includes an indigenous plant retail nursery (call: 021.797.1305); the Bookshop (call: 021.762.6466); the Garden Design Studio (call: 021.797.8973; an exhibition hall, marquee lawn, theme gardens and a Tea Room (call: 021.797.4883).

School groups: A variety of exciting educational programs are available in the Gold Fields Education Centre (call: 021.799.8670).

Hike to Table Mountain from the Garden.

Walks and Trails:  Guided walks through the Garden and Conservatory can be arranged for groups. Several trails lead through the natural forest and fynbos surrounding the Cultivated Garden. They range from 1.5 km (45 min) to 7.8 km (3 hours).  Access to Table Mountain is possible via well-marked routes up Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine.  A separate Trails Map is available at the ticket kiosk. Call:  021.799.8782.

Summer Sunset Concerts:  A popular outdoor concert season is held annually on Sunday evenings from December to March.

Garden Hours:  The garden is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April to August, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.  from September to March.  The Conservatory is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Entrance fees:  An entry fee is charged with concessions for children and learners, SA senior citizens admitted free on Tuesdays. Call: 021.799.8782.  Wheelchairs can be booked at the information office. Call: 021.799.8783 or 021.799.8620.

Stunning shady settings that plants thrive in.

Kirstenbosch is more than just one garden and there's lots to see:

Aromatics and fragrances fill the air.

Fragrance Garden: Features plants with unusual textures and scents.

Braille Trail: A short self-guided trail that passes through a patch of wetland and natural forest.

Centre for Home Gardening: Demonstration gardens featuring Gardening with Cape bulbs, gardening for birds and butterflies and more.

Useful Plants: Discover how indigenous plants are used for making tea, coffee, dyes, rope, baskets, and traditional medicinal uses.

The Koppie: Only tough, drought resistant plants survive on this well-drained sandstone outcrop.

The Dell:  The oldest part of the garden, featuring Colonel Bird’s Bath, tree ferns, and a wide variety of shade-loving plants.

Cycad Amphitheatre: Features an ancient plant group which dates back to a time long before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

You can buy sculptures in the Garden.

Pearson’s Grave: Professor Harold Pearson was the first Director of Kirstenbosch, and his vision led to the establishment of the Garden in 1913.

Matthews’ Rockery: Displays succulents and bulbs from the dry parts of the country.

Vygies: A kaleidoscope of color in October when these succulent plants are in full bloom.

Annuals: Enjoy a spectacular show of color in Spring; best viewed midday when the Namaqualand daisies have fully opened.

Fynbos Walk: The path leads from Rycroft Gate through gardens displaying fynbos (bushes), the vegetation unique to the Cape Floral Kingdom, and offers panoramic views.

Erica Garden:
Contains a selection of over 600 species of Erica (heath) found in South Africa.

Protea Garden: Displays members of the remarkable diverse plant family. Visit during winter and spring to see proteas, serrurias and cone bushes in flower.  In early summer pincushions provide a colorful display.  Proteas are the national flower of South Africa.

A Bird-Of-Paradise hides out.

Restio Garden: Displays the incredible variety of texture and form found in the Cape reed family (Restionaceae).

Buchus: A highly aromatic plant group belonging to the citrus family (Rutaceae).

Van Riebeeck’s hedge: A remnant of the hedge planted in 1660 as a boundary of the newly established colony on the Cape. The first wine grapes were planted where the garden is today.

The Camphor Avenue: The historical avenue (planted in 1898 by Cecil Rhodes) provides a cool, shady walk in summer.

The Botanical Society Conservatory: A desert house that displays the succulent treasures of southern Africa as well as collections of bulbs, ferns, and South African alpine plants.

The Vlei Garden: A boardwalk over a natural seep that is rich in plant and animal life.

Peninsula Garden: Displays some of the over 2,500 plants species found on the Cape Peninsula.

The Garden is educational.

Water-Wise Garden: Demonstrates how you can create a home garden that needs less water and maintenance than a water-thirsty garden.

Fynbos Garden: Shows how fynbos (bushes) can be used in the home garden.

Arboretum: Display over 450 southern African tree species in a beautiful forest setting. Bird life in the area is abundance.

Sculpture Garden: African stone sculptures, with the sales office at the Visitors’ Centre.

Garden of Extinction: Displays a selection of the 1,500+ South African plants that face a high risk of extinction and what you can do about it.

Garden of Weeds:  Displays South African plants that have become weeds in other parts of the world.  Find out how plants become weeds and what you can do about their spread.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
The Curator Kirstenbosch NBG
Private Box X7, Claremont 7735
Tel: 021.799.8899; Fax: 021.787.6570

From here, we ventured into the classically magnificent Constantia area with its immaculate, massive tree-lined streets, the historic birth place of the wine farming industry in South Africa.  I enjoyed a wine tasting at Klein Constansia in peace and serenity a stone’s throw from the vibe of the city.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. Take a Kirstenbosch and Constantia Tour with Touring Thompsons Cape Town represented by African Travel Inc. — and thanks to my driver Manny.