South Africa is endowed with nine spectacular National Botanical Gardens. Each is special in its own way, revealing different regional plant treasures and unique collections and displays.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Newlands, Cape Town, Western Cape
I’ve never known anyone visit Kirstenbosch who hasn’t been enthralled, delighted, moved or inspired by the showy beauty and the many spots of wonder in these magnificent gardens. Its grandeur ranks it along with the best gardens in the world. A world first for Kirstenbosch is that it was the first botanical garden anywhere on earth to take up the protection and display of a country’s indigenous flora. Resting up against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and bordering the Table Mountain National Park, Kirstenbosch lies in the centre of the Cape Floral Kingdom.
One of my favourite spots is Mathews Rockery, especially when the aloes are out and sunbirds come to flaunt their iridescent emerld-green jackets to glint in the sun. The rockery is usually a quiet spot, and not far from one of the entry points to the gardens.
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, between Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay, Western Cape
The Harold Porter Garden is situated with the ocean on one side and fynbos-clad mountains on the other – a pretty 100 km drive from Cape Town, with beautiful coastal stretches. The gardens reveal a good deal of fynbos, as well as the families of irises, daisies and orchids. Gorges, waterfalls and pools add to the beauty.
Karoo Desert Botanical Garden, near Worcester, Western Cape
Set at the lower edge of the Hex River Mountains, this is Africa’s unique succulent garden, showcasing an impressive variety of desert and semi-desert plants. It’s at its most spectacular in spring when the Mesembs, or vygies, flower abundantly to create profuse splashes of colour.
Hantam National Botanical Garden, near Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape
Spectacular displays of daisies in spring are among the highlights of this garden. Wonderful trails ranging from 450m to 8km have been created for visitors to enjoy the garden on foot.
Free State National Botanical Garden, outskirts of Bloemfontein
70 Hectares of garden spread out in a valley dotted with dolerite koppies, grassland and woodland. The Garden has 400 species of plants, among them the lovely wild olive and karee trees, and the colourful wild dagga, red-hot pokers and dwarf coral tree. It’s also a haven for wildlife, including 144 bird species, 54 reptile species and about 32 mammal species.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Roodepoort, Gauteng
Enjoy landscaped gardens and natural grassland and savanna, with dense bush in kloofs and along streams. There are 600 naturally occurring plant species in the garden, and a pair of majestic Verreaux’s Eagles nesting on the cliffs beside a waterfall.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden, Pretoria, Gauteng
Beautiful escape from the city, with a great diversity of indigenous plants and half the country’s tree species.
Lowveld National Botanical Garden, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga
The Lowveld Garden is intersected by the Crocodile and Nels Rivers, which converge to create beautiful waterfalls. An African Rain Forest creates a special magic and has some unusual and fascinating vegetation. The garden is known for its large collection of fig trees.
Pietermaritzburg National Botanical Garden, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal
Northern hemisphere plants can be seen here, including the swamp cypress, tulip trees, camphor trees, plane trees, giant figs and magnolias. An avenue of London Plane trees are a special feature, as is the Useful Plants Garden, displaying plants used by the Zulu people for medicine, craft and food.
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