Monday 18 February 2013

The most beautiful garden in Africa

A hundred years ago, a dedicated botanist called Harold Pearson began the task of transforming a huge, overgrown and neglected tract of land on the slopes of Table Mountain into the continent's most beautiful garden.

Pearson saw the potential for a spectacular indigenous garden under the mountains to display the Cape's floral kingdom - the richest variety of plant life in the smallest area existing in the world.

In a time before excavation machinery, the job was undertaken manually with spades, shovels and mule carts, Pearson labouring alongside a team of only a handful of men after work and on weekends.

He channelled the water that cascades naturally in waterfalls down the mountainside into streams and ponds ...

to provide irrigation for the Cape's indigenous flora ...

Cycads that survived the dinosaur area, and tree ferns (Cyathea dregei below...

Proteas - one of the oldest species of plant life in the world, its ancestors going back 300 million years ...

Pelargoniums, one of many species indigenous to this area that have given rise to popularly known plants in the rest of the world (where they're often wrongly called geraniums) ...

Stone Age people inhabited these mountains aeons ago, and since then Khoi and San people and European settlers have all left their mark.

It's also home to protected bird and animal life. Walking round the gardens with my mother on my last day in Cape Town we watched an Egyptian goose dive-bombing another from the air ...

Harold Pearson died young, before he saw his vision to completion, and is buried in the gardens. Today the Kirstenbosch botanical garden is a UNESCO World Heritage site and rated one of the seven top botanical gardens of the world.

There's a fragrance garden, a Braille trail for the blind, a garden of plants threatended with extinction, a garden  featuring plants used by traditional African healers ... and a fabulous collection of Mambo stone sculptures from Zimbabwe as well as sculptor Dylan Lewis's famous animals in action ...

Photos on display for this year's centenary celebrations show some historic moments in the garden's (and the country's) history ...

These ladies are horticulturalists (with what must be one of the best jobs in the world) and the only ones who are allowed to pick flowers here.

I was lucky to have a solo walk with my mother as a guide. She is one of Kirstenbosch's leading guides and last year was awarded an honorary life membership in recognition of her work and botanical knowledge.

Thanks for the tour, mum, and I hope you enjoyed the pics!


  1. I can quite see why it earned its name!
    How wonderful for your mother to spend time in such an amazing place.
    One day.......

  2. Magical, thank you for sharing the pictures and your mum for the tour!
    I'll email the link immediately to my daughter C who is traveling in South Africa as I type.

  3. This is a wonderland...thank you, Karen, for giving us access to this garden.

    Thanks also to the wise and talented and energetic man who had the vision and follow through to get it established.

    Bravo to your mum for her involvement with this botanical glory, and also to her for being your mum!


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  5. You must have clambered over every inch of the magnificent gardens! They should make you an honorary guide, or guide descendant, and your mother must be a remarkable woman.
    Glorious photos, thank you.


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