Botanical Gardens in South Africa
Not surprisingly, considering our fantastic botanical diversity, we have a number of lovely botanical gardens scattered around the country. Generally, they are places to relax, walk and discover new and exciting things about our floral heritage. But most also have lovely tea gardens or restaurants and host fun events such as art exhibitions, concerts and many others. The gardens are administered by the National Botanical Research Institute.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Adjacent to the Cape Peninsula National Park is the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens - an absolute gem with plants from all over South Africa. Set against the slopes of Devil's Peak, the park has both a "cultivated" and a wild aspect, with lovely walks going up the mountain through two steep, forested gorges. The whole garden is 528 hectares. The cultivated area is about 36 hectares in extent and consists of extensive lawns, flower beds, bonds, streams and interesting stands of indigenous plants.
The Conservatory is home to a number of plants indigenous to other parts of South Africa and which won't grow outdoors in Cape Town. The garden is fully wheelchair-accessible and a fragrance trail with Braille plaques attracts as many sighted visitors as non-sighted. Other special features include a garden of useful indigenous plants, a cycad garden, the Bird Bath, which is a beautiful, idyllic historical bathing pool built around a natural spring, and the historic Van Riebeek's Hedge. Visitor facilities include an information desk, the Kirstenbosch Shop with a wide range of gifts, the Botanical Society Bookshop, a coffee Shop and restaurant.
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
This beautiful, little-known garden near the town of Betty's Bay is only 100 kilometres from Cape Town on the scenic R44 coastal road which winds past Gordon's Bay and continues further on to Hermanus. Ideally situated between mountains and sea, the garden consists of about 10 hectares of cultivated fynbos garden and 190 hectares of pristine natural fynbos. Among the almost 90 species of bird one is likely to see are the endemic iridescent orange-breasted sunbird and the very rare protea canary. There is a small restaurant serving light meals and teas. The garden is open 365 days a year from 08:00 - 18:00.
Karoo National Botanical Garden
The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden, outside Worcester, about an hour north of Cape Town is the only succulent garden in the southern hemisphere. The garden is just on the edge of the succulent Karoo biome, which includes the spectacular Namaqualand flora. It is quite spectacular in spring, with the flowering of the many Namaqualand plants and, specifically, the brightly coloured iridescent mesembryanthemums, or vygies.
The cultivated part of the garden is about 11 hectares in extent, while the remaining section of about 144 hectares is a more natural reserve.
Facilities and special attractions include a bookshop, plant sales, a maze, an ethnobotanical garden displaying plants traditionally used by the Khoi-San people. Guided tours are available but must be arranged in advance. There are several kilometres of nature trails through the garden, which makes for lovely day walks, including a Braille trail of just over a kilometre.
Natal Botanical Garden
Although the primary purpose of this lovely and peaceful garden is to conserve and showcase plants from the eastern coastal region of South Africa, it has a surprising number of exotics. This is no doubt due to the fact that, when it was founded in 1874, the emphasis of the colonial authorities was to create a space for exotic plants.
One of the most spectacular features is the magnificent avenue of London plane trees, and swamp cypresses, camphor trees and magnolias grace the beautifully landscaped garden. Part of the garden is deliberately planted out with bird-friendly species and about 120 species of birds are known to visit. A display of traditional healing plants attracts interest and the large collection of clivias is spectacular in flower. Guided walks are offered.
Witwatersrand Botanical Garden
This lovely 300 hectare expanse of Highveld offers a wonderful respite from Johannesburg's urban bustle. A pretty waterfall, numerous walks, some relatively untouched grassland and a number of interesting garden features in the cultivated area create a diverse range of attractions. There is a cycad garden, an indigenous herb garden, a wetland with bird hide, a water garden and a geological garden, where the numerous rock types of the region are displayed. There are numerous species of birds, including a breeding pair of black eagles.
Facilities include a restaurant and a gift shop. Open air concerts are held in winter and, in summer, the holiday season is celebrated with outdoor Carols by Candle-light. Guided tours can be arranged.
The Garden is open daily from 08h00 to 18h00, no entry after 17h00.
Lowveld National Botanical Gardens
This lovely garden offers a scenic ramble, preferably before a visit to a game farm or national park. As well as one of the most comprehensive cycad gardens in the world, the gardens has areas dedicated to different vegetation types and even different families. This garden is an absolute must for tree enthusiasts as more than 650 of the approximately 1,000 tree species found in South Africa can be seen here.
This 159-hectare site was chosen for its spectacular scenery, particularly the confluence of Crocodile and Nels Rivers. There is a coffee shop serving light meals and teas. Midday concerts are often held in the winter months, between May and September. Guided tours can be arranged.
Pretoria National Botanical Gardens
Situated close to the centre of Pretoria, this lovely garden showcases a number of indigenous South African plants, from both the temperate and sub-tropical areas. Facilities include a tea garden, the National Herbarium and the Mary Gunn Library - the largest botanical library in South Africa. Although far from the Cape, an extensive planting of Namaqualand plants gives a wonderfully colourful spring display. Some remaining Highveld vegetation is preserved above the cultivated section of the garden and can be visited on a short walking trail. Picnics are held in the garden in the winter months, from April to September. The Garden is open 365 days a year from 08h00 - 18h00.
Free State National Botanical Gardens
On the outskirts of Bloemfontein, this attractive garden has retained a large portion of natural grassland, and showcases the vetation of the Free State, Northern Cape and neighbouring Lesotho. As well as the many colourful flowering plants indigenous to the Highveld grassland biome, there are a number of trees, which are mostly found in sheltered kloofs. The medicinal herbal garden is instructive as well as attractive and displays some traditional buildings. The garden is open 365 days a year from 08h00 - 18h00.