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OOn the eastern slopes of the mighty Table Mountain you can find one of South Africa’s greatest and most beautiful national treasures. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden not only showcases the natural flora and fauna of the area in spectacular fashion, but with the mighty mountain as a backdrop, it may be one of the most beautiful places in the country.
Many years ago, Cecil John Rhodes donated a large swathe of land on the mountain’s slopes to the City of Cape Town. A part of this became the University of Cape Town, and another part was set aside to create a large botanical garden, which would display the unique plants that could be found around the area. Great sweeping lawns interspersed with trees, roses, ponds and natural Southern African plant species were planted, and this area quickly became a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
HHarold Pearson laid out the original garden, which has since its inception in 1913 grown to become one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. On a fine day you can see children playing and laughing on the rolling lawns, families picnicking in the shade of 100-year-old trees, and couples walking among the many glades that tinkle with the sound of running streams.
Nelson Mandela was an avid gardener. When he retired from politics he could often be found pottering around in his private garden in Houghton tending to his plants. Kirstenbosch was one of his favourite places to go when he was in the Mother City, reminding him of the small patch of garden that he used to tend while he was in prison.
TThese days there are a number of Mandela memorabilia in the garden itself that can be found with some map reading and walking. A large pepper bark tree that was actually planted by Madiba shades a bust of the great man’s head, reminding us to stop and spend some time in quiet contemplation. In the 1990s a rare form of one of our most well-known flowers, the Strelitzia, was named Mandela’s Gold for its dusky yellow colour. The flower can be found dotted all over the garden, bordering many of the paved walkways.
Today the Garden is home to a number of exhibitions. One can find local art situated throughout the manicured lawns, and certain areas have been set aside for dedicated plant species. The dinosaur exhibition that showcases some of our local prehistoric animals and plants is a permanent fixture. The Cycad Amphitheatre was designed to draw attention to the plight of our indigenous cycads, many of which are on the brink of extinction. Set among five anatomically correct tin dinosaurs, some of these exact plants are over 1000 years old. This particular exhibition is a firm favourite for kids of all ages.
TThe most recent addition to the garden is the Boomslang Trail. This winding wooden walkway is set among the tree canopies of the forest section, and offers a unique view not only of the garden but of the entire city. Various bird species can be spotted including sugarbirds, Cape white eye and the occasional steppe buzzard wheeling high overhead.
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a must see for anyone visiting Cape Town. The sheer variety of things to experience will ensure that you can easily spend a whole day just walking around on a path of discovery. Take the time to sit on a shaded bench while reflecting on South Africa’s history and how far we have come.