Kirstenbosch Gardens Cape Town

This is Part 2. Here is Part 1

Kirstenbosch direction sign

Kirstenbosch Gardens Cape Town
During the early 1800s The Cape was occupied by British settlers. The Kirstenbosch land was initially bought by Colonial Secretary Henry Alexander and Colonel Bird. In later years it passed between various owners including D.G.Ecksteen and the Cloete family from Groot Constantia. The Cloetes were known for producing good wine in their vineyards.

In 1895 the Cloete homestead and estate was acquired by the last private owner, Cecil John Rhodes for 9000 pounds. Rhodes died in 1902 after bequeathing the estate to the nation. It was left neglected, overgrown and overrun with pigs.

In 1913, after an assessment which was carried out by Cambridge botanist Professor Henry Harold Pearson, the Government set aside the land of the Kirstenbosch estate and proclaimed it as botanical gardens to be used for the preservation and promotion of the country's indigenous flora.

Pearson became the first director of the new Kirstenbosch Gardens Cape Town. He began by planting cycads in what is now known as the 'Dell'. Despite having to deal with problems of ruins, bush and the pigs, he persevered with clearing and planting, working without salary, living in small damp rooms and selling firewood to supplement his meagre Government grant.

Pearson died in 1916 of pneumonia. He was 46. His pioneering work was an inspiration to those who carried on the task of establishing the Gardens. Some early developments included the Cycad Amphitheatre and the main lawn.

The staff in those early years used Table Mountain stone to build features, rockeries and retaining walls of a high standard. Kirstenbosch Gardens was set at various levels and this meant that a lot of construction was necessary. The work was accomplished with the aid of mules and carts.

The National Botanical Institute plays a major role in research, conservation and environmental education in South Africa. It also maintains reference libraries and plant collections.

160 hectares of Kirstenbosch Gardens are cultivated and this area is arranged into various visitor friendly themed sections divided by relaxing lawns and winding walkways. For the visually impaired there is the Fragrance Garden and the recently upgraded Braille Walk. Other areas are devoted to specific collections, such as succulents, proteas, ericas and medicinal plants as used by traditional healers.

There are also 3 signposted circular trail walks of varying lengths to choose from, and guided group tours can be arranged if required. An electronic information device can also be hired to provide commentary on plants as you stroll.

Those who are content with finding their own way around the Gardens can buy an information pamphlet incorporating an illustrated map of the main routes and attractions. There are however many confusing secondary pathways winding through the Gardens, and locating specific points of interest in some areas is not easy.

The Visitors' Centre is a combination of various facilities including an information desk, an upmarket gift shop and a coffee shop. There is also an exhibition centre where local artists' works are displayed - and a restaurant.

Centres of special interest at Kirstenbosch Gardens Cape Town are the Goldfields Environmental Centre - which arranges educational programmes for school groups, the Compton Herbarium, the Harry Molteno Library, the Kirstenbosch Research Centre and the Botanical Society which runs a conservatory specialising in succulents and an indigenous nursery.

A section devoted to the preservation of endangered plants is in progress.
Kirstenbosch Gardens is one of eight Botanical Gardens around South Africa administered by the National Botanical Institute whose head office is at Kirstenbosch Gardens.
Kirstenbosch Gardens also hosts Sunday evening classical concerts which run regularly through the Cape summer months from December to March. People arrive with picnic baskets and wine, to relax on the lawns and enjoy the mountain scenery, the sunset and the music.

The Gardens are a popular departing point for hikes up to the Back Table of Table Mountain. The routes taken are generally from the parking area, through the Gardens and up Skeleton Gorge or Nursery Ravine.

If you are considering a hike up Table Mountain here are some pointers: Be sure you are in good physical condition and stay on the path. Know where you're going. Take protective clothing - yes, even in mid summer the weather conditions on top can change for the worse - and plenty of food and water.

Mountain Rescue Services are frequently called out to retrieve lost or injured hikers on Table Mountain. Hike with someone who knows the area and let friends or family know where you are going.

More details on Kirstenbosch Gardens can be found in the
Fodors Cape Town Travel guide

This is the end of Part 2. Here is Part 1

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