A trip to Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens
The day started in the conservatory where our affable guide Andrew highlighted plants, mostly succulents from other regions in the Western Cape. Conservatories as we know them are most often used to protect plants from winter cold, but the glass house at Kirstenbosch protects species from excessive rainfall. It is unique among most conservatories in that the designers and builders took special care to plant within native rock and soil. This substrate was collected from all over the country and as you walk around, you take note of the changes in color and texture.
After the conservatory, we followed Andrew to a behind-the-scenes tour of production at Kirstenbosch. We met Graham Duncan, Kirstenbosch’s bulb expert and learned a great deal about building and caring for an indigenous collection. There are over 1400 species of bulbs found in the Cape Floral Kingdom and most of them are found nowhere else in the world. Kirstenbosch plays an extremely important role in identifying, caring for and promoting this biodiversity. We also toured the succulent houses which, believe it or not, boast many species yet to be identified!
Onto the gardens proper! As I said before, you can’t belive the setting of Kirstenbosch until you are there (but check out our photos anyway). One of our favorite parts of the garden was the cycad display. Cycads are an ancient group of plants that favor subtropical and tropical conditions. They are usually slow and sometimes nearly impossible to propagate. They can take a very long time to grow and carry a bit of wonderment amongst our group. We have cycads in our conservatory at Longwood Gardens, but nothing like the outdoor ampitheater-like creation at Kirstenbosch. The masses of different species were almost overwhelming and we spent significant time in this area of the garden. We also saw many species of beautiful proteas, some of which can be seen in our pictures.
But, Andrew eventually moved us along and we ended our day with Kirstenbosch’s education team. Most, if not all of us, are interested in public outreach and sharing our horticultural knowledge in some way. Therefore, it was quite inspiring to hear success stories from the staff at Kirstenbosch. They are accomplishing so much in the communities surrounding the garden. Organized under the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the education staff at Kirstenbosch works hard to inspire and more importantly, enable the citizens of South Africa. We heard a great deal from Zane and Gratitude, two staff members who teach horticultural workshops to interested community groups. These workshops span the period of 4 years and eventually lead to landscape transformations in communities and school gardens. The native and water-wise centered plantings become a space of shared responsibility within the communities they are serving. In addition, knowledge is passed along as learned horticultural skills are shared with others. These programs had significant parallels to our Nurturing Curiosity and Teacher Institute programs at Longwood Gardens.
We all felt so fortunate to have had this experience at Kirstenbosch. Thanks for reading along. We’ll be leaving Cape Town tomorrow and heading north to the Citrusdal region. Time is flying!
-Erin Frances Feeney