Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Good for: art, sculpture, ceramics, plants of many kingdomes, stone carving
Not good for: wearing high heels, inpatient children
Lonely Planet review for Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Covering over 500 hectares of Table Mountain, overlooking False Bay and the Cape Flats, these beautiful landscaped gardens merge almost imperceptibly with the surrounding natural fynbos (fine bush) vegetation. The gardens were established by Jan van Riebeeck, who appointed a forester in 1657.
A group of shipwrecked French refugees on their way to Madagascar was employed during 1660 to plant the famous wild almond hedge as the boundary of the Dutch outpost (it’s still here). Van Riebeeck called his private farm Boschheuwel, and most likely it wasn’t until the 1700s, when the gardens were managed by JF Kirsten, that they got the name Kirstenbosch. Apart from the almond hedge, some magnificent oaks, and the Moreton Bay fig and camphor trees planted by Cecil Rhodes, the gardens are devoted almost exclusively to indigenous plants. About 9000 of Southern Africa’s 22,000 plant species are cultivated here.
You’ll find a kopje (hill) that has been planted with pelargoniums; a sculpture garden; a section for plants used for muti (medicine) by sangomas (traditional African healers); and a fragrance garden with raised beds and plants that can be smelt and felt, which were developed so that sight- impaired people could enjoy the garden – the plant labels here are also in Braille.
The main entrance at the Newlands end of the gardens is where you’ll find plenty of parking, the information centre, an excellent souvenir shop and the atmosphere-controlled conservatory. The conservatory displays plant communities from a variety of terrains, the most interesting of which is the Namaqualand and Kalahari section, with baobabs and quiver trees. Further along Rhodes Dr is the Rycroft Gate entrance, the first you’ll come to if you approach the gardens from Constantia.
Call to find out about free guided walks, or hire the My Guide electronic gizmo (R35) to receive recorded information about the various plants you’ll pass on the three signposted circular walks. There is always something flowering, but the gardens are at their best between mid-August and mid-October.
The Sunday afternoon concerts are a Cape Town institution, attracting some of the biggest names in South African music.