The Last Half of Our Last Day
The second place we visited was The Stellenbosch Community Development Program (SCDP ) in Kayamandi. This was a very emotional experience as it put us face to face with the reality of poverty in South Africa. Our guides were Jacque Treadway, manager, and two of the healthcare workers there. At their headquarters located next to one of the affiliated primary schools, they explained to us the epidemic of malnourished and overweight children. In some cases, the children are malnourished and underweight from lack of healthy food, and in other cases children (especially young girls) are overweight because of junk food and the perception of weight as a symbol of economic status.
This program provides food (donated by organizations and companies) for children in need on a daily basis. The community development program works with families and collects information to determine needs and to help prevent dependency. The program works and teaches with about 100 mothers; demonstrating how to grow their own vegetables and providing them with a place to garden. This allows the mothers additional nutritional food and gives them opportunities to turn what they have learned into a source of income and empowerment.
We toured the gardens at the development office and then went on a walk to the nearby satellite garden, witnessing the general living conditions and visiting with some of the mothers who garden along the way. The motto of the organization is “Not Afraid to Love” and we encountered many of the children of the area who embodied that phrase. They were full of smiles, were very friendly, and loved to have their pictures taken! We received many waves and thumbs up from people in the town, many of them children, and later learned that they love and admire Americans and our culture.
In the second (satellite) garden we noticed some issues with compaction and plants growing in subsoil (recent site grading had removed topsoil) and offered some suggestions which Jacques warmly accepted (he is not a gardener by trade). He welcomed additional recommendations and Emily quickly offered to put some gardening information together to send once we return to the U.S.
It was great to witness the outreach that the SCDP is doing and the difference they make: http://love2give2children.org.za/ .
It was also great to see the impact gardening can make to a community with so little.
After our visit, we had dinner before spending another 30+ hours traveling back to the U.S. (where we arrived safely).
South Africa was amazing! We were continually surprised by the friendliness of the people and the beauty of not only the landscape but the culture! We would like to thank everyone for joining us along the way, and showing your interest through your comments! We would also like to thank all of our great tour guides for sharing their knowledge with us and making our trip such a rich experience.
Please join us to learn more and see pictures during our Brown Bag in a few weeks!
The First Half of Our Last Day
I would like to begin by saying, on behalf of the Class of 2011, a big thank you to Longwood Gardens for the rare opportunity to have a wonderful experience like this to enhance our already great two year Professional Gardener Program.
Our last day in Stellenbosch and South Africa began with packing, breakfast and loading the cars a final time prior to our last two destinations. It was another day of experiences never to be forgotten.
Our first stop was the Sustainability Institute located in the Lynedoch EcoVillage 15 minutes from the center of Stellenbosch. The institute, working with Stellenbosch University, offers Masters and PhD programs in sustainable development. They have a number of sustainability initiatives that focus on education, ecology, early childhood development, and the teaching of hands-on skills in eco-development. The institute has been crucial in the development of the EcoVillage as a real life example of creating sustainable communities. http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.net/
Our tour guide Bryce (head gardener), who introduced himself as been “born a gardener”, was very curious about our group and our visit; he doesn’t recall any other garden group visiting before. He emphasized that in the programs, including the early childhood development, it is important to bridge the gap between man and nature as that connection is often missing. One way they create this context is by first “consulting the spirits” to stop and question whether the place is appropriate for the tree or not, and to get in touch with the greater environment both above and below foot when planting trees with the students. All of the trees on the property (mostly endemic) were planted by Bryce and the students over the last 8-9 years providing opportunities for hands-on experience.
A proud feature that Bryce showcased to our group was the wastewater treatment. All of the waste from the site is distributed either to a bio-filter or into biolytic filters (worms break down the waste) and then to the bio-filter wetland where microbes and plants break it down. The system uses pumps to run the water through a UV filter and back to the buildings as grey water for flushing and irrigation. An advantage to this system is prevention of disturbance and impacts of typical sewer system installations.
Other highlights included a recently planted ‘woodland’ area which contained a number of different plans such as: Virgilia (keurboom), Leonotis ocymifolia (lion’s tail), a huge Verbena bonariensis (purple top), buddleja salviifolia (sage leaf buddleja), and Tarchonanthus camphorates (camphor bush) to name a few. We also saw some residences and buildings being built with sustainable features and materials such as adobe brick, recycled brick, solar tiles, solar hot water and a biogas digester which collects methane gas from decomposing food waste and makes it available to cook with.
Our first full day in Stellenbosch began early Saturday morning at Vergelegen. The name translates in English to: “situated far away”. Vergelegen is a 3000 hectare estate that includes timeless gardens, wise old trees, incredible vineyards, a lovely little restaurant, and magnificent views of Stellenbosch and its surrounding wine routes. The estate dates back to the 18th century when it was a homestead and the gardens produced fresh fruit and vegetables that were otherwise unavailable. Some areas of the gardens were separated by walls constructed in 1680, while others have more natural boundaries of 300 year old Camphor trees. There are plenty of these gorgeous specimens on the property as they were very functional years ago when people wore mostly natural fiber clothing. Often the timber was used to make chests and other furniture pieces for storing such items that were susceptible to damage from moths. The trees themselves stood tall, wide at the base, and were quite majestic, one of them was declared a national monument in 1947.
Because we are about to board the plane and have not had access to the internet at our hotel, I will have to continue this later.…please enjoy a sneak-peek with the images below….
Now in the Amsterdam airport, we are waiting to board with Delta and arrive in Detroit to catch our final flight back to Pennsylvania. Feelings are bittersweet.
To continue with Vergelegen, I want to mention a few of the stunning trees we encountered while touring the gardens. They do love their trees and have a particularly lovely grove of Yellowwoods, (Afrocarpus), which delicately grow just beyond the mountain-fed river and seem unworldly when one steps inside. Aftrocarpus falcartus, formerly Podocarpus falcartus is considered South Africa’s national tree, as it too was useful in so many ways. Another gem not to be left out is the impressive King Alfred Oak specimen( Quercus robur), which we were able to climb inside of and look from the inside out. The Oak is 300 years old, one of the foundation plantings, and work is now underway to build a boardwalk around its base to prevent soil compaction. Vergelegen’s horticulturalist and our tour guide, Richard, is busy working to keep this specimen preserved for future generations by seed propagation. One more specimen that cannot be forgotten is the 100-year-old Camellia that gained recognition from the Camellia Garden of Excellence. It is rare to see one of this size in the States , and it filled out the Camphor understory so perfectly that it seemed like these two plants have been rather fond of each other’s company all these years, like a beautiful friendship.
Day two in Stellenbosch was sunny and crispy cool. We were better able to view the surrounding mountains and valleys that lay atop the land as we made our way to see Una van der Spuy at her home, Old Nectar. It was a short, fifteen minute drive just outside of town and as we piled out of the cars and approached the house, a large dog by the name of “Simba” barreled out to greet us. We waited at the bottom of the stairs expecting an elderly woman to slowly make her way around the hedge. I was surprised as she almost popped out from around the corner to great us with a smile and an enthusiasm to begin talking plants with us. Ninety nine years old and she is prompt and professional, graceful and artistic. After a warm greeting, she immediately began talking Latin and naming some of the larger trees that serve as a frame to her colorful garden. With a rocky mountain backdrop, Una planted what pleased her and not necessarily what grows natively. Some of these were species that we see back home such as Gingko, Magnolia, and Elm. She quickly made the point that a gardener should not choose a plant for its flower, but rather for its foliage. She liked to use a theme of gold, silver, and bronze-colored foliage to bring further dimension to the landscape and to “relieve the background”.
She went on to give us the history of her garden, herself, Old Nectar, and South Africa in that particular region. She explained to us how she began the garden around the gable using little more than her own strength to complete construction. Most of the garden she expanded herself and still continues that way today, with the help of some friends along the way. We made our way down to the rose garden which comprised of 7 or more beds of different varieties, each lined purposefully with a silver border to enhance the brick pathway laid some 64 years ago. Una’s favorite rose is the German pink, which flowers into November and is pictured in the slides.
We wrapped up our visit with Una enjoying a cup of rooibos tea as she answered questions and talked about her first experiences using a computer for writing. It was a perfect morning with a perfect view, with an unforgettable woman and her garden.
The afternoon was reserved for visiting Stellenbosch Botanic. Here we enjoyed a leisurely view of the gardens and some of their private collections including two succulent houses, a fern house that offered relief from the hot sun, and a handsome collection of Bonsai that included a 70-year-old White Pine (Pinus strobus). One particular beauty that struck us was a blooming and budding specimen of Bromeliad (Puya chilensis), which is included in the slide show for your enjoyment. In total, there are 3500-4000 plant labels on the 1.5 hectares of Stellenbosch Botanic. There are three gardeners and one horticulturist on staff, they are thoroughly occupied as one can imagine. One of the newer areas of the garden focuses on plants endemic to the Stellenbosch area and it has a centrally located entrance that is more easily accessed by students and neighbors. This concludes our second day in Stellenbosch. We’ enjoyed Stellenbosch’s accessaability, food, and plant life!
Keep following along to hear about our last day, which put all things in perspective and gave us a new way to view plants and our relationships with them. It was emotional, somewhat heartbreaking, and entirely inspirational.
See you all soon!
We are now nestled into the beautiful city of Stellenbosch with a few days left of wonderful places to visit, the sun is shining, the wind is out and we are still in full gear and having a great experience. I am going to report on our journey to Stellenbosch that included a spectacular drive along the coast through the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve with stops at a penguin sanctuary and Harold Porter National Botanic Garden.
Our departure from Swelledam Friday morning took us through the Tradouw Pass, one of many amazing mountain roads that winds through a vast landscape (dotted with rocky overhangs and vegetation colored in pinks, silvers, yellows and greens)…the combinations are so beautiful that neither descriptions nor photographs may ever do them justice. This mountain range suddenly brought us into another landscape with a stark change in elevation…that of agriculture and we rolled through acres and acres of hills full of wheat. We have been told by many horticulturists involved in conservation here how the mass production and demand for wheat has caused many endemic species to become endangered due to the loss of habitat; so as we drove through, I wondered what was once there.
Just before lunch we reached yet another mountain range known as the Kogelberg which lies along the coast of False Bay. This coastline has a scenic drive on the R44 which spans between the mountains and sea and is simply breathtaking. Entering onto this route brings you directly through the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning around 3,000 hectares. This reserve is unique for it’s 1,600 plant species that make up a greater floral diversity number per unit area than anywhere else in the world. While much of this reserve is closed to the public, visitors may enjoy some hikes, camping, scenic drives and a stop to Harold Porter National Botanic Garden, which was exactly on our itinerary. On the way we could not resist a stroll along the steep cliffs as we took a short walk to the outcroppings above the coast. The waves and the wind were a powerful force and the vegetation on the cliffs showed great perseverance. Here we discovered some Ferraria and Berkheya growing along the slopes along with lush coastal scrub. This is also known to be an area to observe the Southern Right Whale (unfortunately none were spotted today)!
Continuing along the road we made a quick stop to the African Penguin colony in the town of Betty’s Bay. Thousands of penguins were dotted along the shore basking in the sun and nestling their little ones from teh cool breeze. This African penguin is the only species of penguin that breeds on the continent of Africa. This colony in particular was established because of predation and loss of habitat.
Finally after a quick bite of seafood along the sea we made it to Harold Porter National Botanic Garden. This garden lies within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve on land known as the Leopard’s Kloof. This is one of the nine national botanic gardens in the SANBI network and was started by Mr. Harold Porter himself, an architect from Johannesburg. He purchased land on Leopard’s Kloof in the 1930′s. As the land in the area developed Mr. Porter kept this area to preserve the wild fynbos. After his death in 1958 the reserve was donated to the National Botanic Gardens of South Africa and given his name. The land was extended by the municipality which allows for some seaside land and trail extension up into the “kloof” or gorge. This garden is divided into beds that dot along the lawn below the mountains. They are divided into various ecosystems and plant species that include a restio garden, fynbos ecosystem, protea garden and a disa kloof. The diversity and display of plants was amazing and the landscape that surrounded it was even more wonderful. We could not help but venture up to the gorge trails for a little “botanising” as they say and discovered wonderful cliff sweeps of restios dotted with proteas and craggy rocks. There were also small colonies of sundews, Drosera hilaris, nestled between the rocks and in the shadows of the grasses. Tim and I were also very excited to discover a spectacular Anemone tenuifoliaperched along the path in full fuzzy bloom. After all our happiness and excitement we lost track of time as the gardens were closing and made our way back down the mountain to our group and our two little cars to journey onto the next destination…
On the morning of October 12th we, the 9 now cultured students ventured out of Montagu with a new Nissan Grand Livina for Lauren to drive to our next destination (hopefully you heard that her last car isn’t with us anymore). If only our precious Livina knew where we were going to be traveling to next! After about a 40 minute drive on Route 62 east we were soon greeted by a Sanbona sign leading us to the game reserve entrance. After another 14 kilometers on the dusty path winding through mountains and farms we reached the welcome gate of Sanbona Game Reserve. As if that wasn’t enough for us we traveled approximately another 35 kilometers into the reserve to our accommodations. Caught by surprise we were welcomed by Ostrich, Zebra, Springbok, tortoise, and another Puff Adder along the road. Nestled snug at the foot of the Warmwaterberg mountain range we were among the Karoo landscape and realizing quickly it was us and mother nature alone on 135,000 acres of reserve…
Here on the reserve, Sanbona has a group of over 100 employees working to make this part of South Africa a better place! Through various activities like animal re-introduction, conserving endangered plant communities, and improving water quality and run off through plant rejuvenation we were quickly impressed and anxious to learn more. Marco and Suritha were our rangers during our game drives and plant explorations. Both went through intensive training and took various tests to be guides and teach others about the importance of preserving these beautiful animals and plants. The property we were visiting was previously 19 abandoned farms, but the preserve had slowly expanded, so the animals could be free. Speaking of free I want to share the meaning of Sanbona. San- meaning of the sand people and -bona meaning free roaming. The name of this reserve is very intriguing and the more we encountered the animals there, we embraced the free roaming portion of the word.
When we arrived, we quickly unloaded our baggage and made our way to the lodge to have lunch because we had a game drive very soon. The time arrived and all eleven of us loaded up into 2 land cruisers and traveled down another dusty, but beautiful road leading us all around the reserve. First, I would like to describe the type of land we travelled on the reserve. Basically, Sanbona was made up of 3 different biomes, Succulent Karoo, Thicket, and Fynbos. The Fynbos here on Sanbona is known as the Renosterveld, which is one of the most threatened vegetation communities in the Cape Floral Kingdom. The land also had rock formations that were formed over 350 million years ago, and fossils of marine invertebrates are still being found. Now, onto the fun part of the trip the animals and plants! We started our safari and encountered a herd of African Elephants led by the female “Matriarch” followed by other females and young. The group slowly travelled past our vehicle and some made memorable eye contact with each and every one of the elephants The elephants possessed the most peaceful eyes I have ever seen. As if that wasn’t enough, we then encountered a huge herd of zebra and were also treated to the sounds of mating calls, and experienced a zebra crossing! We then viewed other animals including: White Rhinoceros, Eland, Springbok, Klipsrpinger, Kudu, Giraffe, Baboons, and much more which will be shown in pictures following the posting. As a side note, we took two game drives one in the night and one in the following morning, each lasting quite a long time. Unlike other game reserves in Africa, this one was large and it took time to find the animals on the huge property, so they were not presented to us easily.
While on the safari, we also encountered many different plants like the most prevalent Karoo Acacia or Sweet Thorn which was unbelievably grazed by most animals, even though it bore many 4-5 inch sharp white thorns. As the Acacia ages, it actually loses the thorns in the more mature parts of the plant, and the juvenile branches are loaded with thorns. We were fortunate enough to watch a bull (male) elephant feed on this plant, and it was amazing how they used their trunks to grab the branches and quickly devour the branches, thorns and all; but that is probably because their skin is 4-5 inches thick so they didn’t feel a thing. We also saw many different Aloes, Crassulas, and more Fynbos plants. On our second safari we went on foot and approached a group of cheetah just waking up from a long nights sleep located under the brush on top of one of the mountains. Believe me when you see the pictures you probably won’t believe me but we were less than 20 feet away from one of the sleepy cats! I digress, after we walked down the mountain into a quartz bed and stumbled upon quite a treasure! We walked into a group of Gibbaeum heathii which for you non plant lovers, they are called babies bottoms and are called this because of the resemblance. Let me tell you, it was a rare find to see them thriving so happily and in such a large group! ****After they age they are called “granny bottoms”!
Sanbona was truly a treat for our group and it was great to see all the flora and fauna making up such a beautiful part of South Africa. Between the knowledge that was shared with us, the animal encounters we experienced, and the overall experience we all shared, I believe Sanbona will forever be in our hearts. Just thinking of Sanbona brings me right back to when I was staring an elephant right in the eye or just having an early morning conversation with a group of cheetahs. Sanbona lives on and I will do my very best to share that experience with you through some beautiful photos!
By the way…Connie McCaw, you would be beyond impressed by the level of guest service at this reserve!!
As mentioned in previous posts we have successfully arrived in Montague which is located in the Karoo. The weather has continued to be hot and dry. On October 10th we visited Karoo Desert Botanical Garden. Karoo Botanical Garden is one of the nine National Botanical Gardens in South Africa and is part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Karoo means “Place of Thirst”. It is located in an arid region and focuses on conservation of the succulent flora.
Shortly after reaching our destination, before we were even out of the vans, we were greated by some of the local wildlife. A Puff Adder (snake) was slithering across the road in front of us. We paused to let it pass and take some photos. Not long afterward a tortoise also was making its way across the road. We were later told that Puff Adders are the second fastest striking snake! I must say I’m glad that I stayed in the car!!!
The Karoo Destert Botanical Garden is focused on conservation of succulent flora that is native to the continent. Their collection is grouped by family and they have roughly 90% of the species for each group of genera in their collection. To aid in proper care of the plants each pot has a colored tag. The different colors are codes for time of rainfall in the species natural environment. This allows for easy watering and insures that plants do not get watered at the wrong time of the year.
Karoo hosts between 1500-1700 plants in its collections alone. In addition to this are the nursery and outdoor garden areas. Each year 8000-9000 plants are planted out in the garden displays. About three times this amount are propagated yearly.
After leaving the garden we stopped for lunch at a cafe that was located in a garden center. We were able to enjoy lunch while also getting to see some of the plants that are sold here at a nursery.
We ended the day’s adventures with a quick stop along highway to climb a large rock outcropping. At the top was an old English Fort that looked out over the the road and surrounding mountain range. It was amazing to see the plants growing in a natural habitat, including a fairly large Crassula growing among the rocks.
On the morning of the 11th we started our day’s adventures by visiting Sheilam Cacti and Succulent Garden. There we were greeted and given a tour by a wonderful hostess Minette. While this is a small garden the main focus is a nursery. They grow many different cacti, succulents and Cycads as well as some other plants from seed and cuttings. The nursery, originally a Apricot and Ostrich Farm, was started a little over fifty years ago and has grown to over three hectares.
One of the biggest challenge the nursery faces is educating the public about preserving biodiversity. Plant poaching is a huge problem and most people do not want to pay for plants that they can collect from their native habitat. However, this action is very detrimental to the natural ecosystem. Sheilam is trying to educate people about preserving the wonderful plant life they have and encouraging them to by plants that have been propagated through seed rather that collected from the wild.
Water is also another challenge for the garden. Water pumped from the river and used as irrigation can have a high salt content and be damaging to the nursery plants. Due to this they have lined the entire dam with black plastic to prevent salt from leaching. The main sources for their water come from the mountains as well as tanks that collect rainwater throughout the rainy season . The greenhouses used in this facility are basic and function well with what nature provides to grow healthy plants. There is no electricity and the sun provides natural light as well as heat.
After our Tour of Sheilam we stopped for a quick bite to eat and then proceeded to a tour of Olyfberg an Olive Farm. On the farm we participated in a olive and olive oil tasting, visited the production factory as well as their nursery and orchard.
The farm is 17 years old and was previously a lucerne and vegetable farm. Lucerne is a plant that is used for cattle feed, it is known in the United States as Alfalfa. There are nine cultivars of olives and seventy one planted hectares. The farm only produces extra virgin olive oil, this means that the oil is only pressed once.
The harvesting season is February through August. The olives are sorted, any bruised olives are used for oil and only perfect olives are used for production of table olives. After being picked and transported to the factory they are graded once again to check for imperfections and also sorted by size. Processing removes any leaves and twigs, and they are washed with water four to fourteen times before being used for food products. If they are made into oil they are pressed and the pits removed. The water and oil are seperated and only pure oil is used.
The Nursery was started mainly for the sale and distribution of olive trees to the local area. Olives are becoming quite popular here and are not readily available.
There are more adventures to come, but that is it for today. Thank you for following!
Saturday we toured Groenkol Rooibos Tea Estate. At Groenkol the tea is grown, harvested, processed, and packaged making it the only rooibos estate in the world! (The other rooibos farms just grow and ship the tea away for processing.) Our tour turned out to be just as unique as the estate.
After yet another trek over a combination of paved, gravel, dirt and sand roads, we were greeted by our charming hosts Annette and Chris du Plessis, who invited us in out of the scorching late spring heat (35⁰C or 95⁰F) to enjoy a glass of iced rooibos tea.
As we sipped the delicious beverage, Annette began to tell us the history of the estate. In the 1950s her father became one of the first rooibos farmers. Although rooibos had been used for years it had previously been harvested from the wild instead of cultivated for production. Groenkol is still in the family and although Annette lived most of her life in other areas of South Africa, she and her husband Chris came back to this beautiful mountainous wilderness near the quaint town of Darling to retire and start their tour business sharing the wonders of rooibos production.
As some of the brilliant sun rays began to fade we piled into Chris’s old retrofitted safari jeep/truck. At one of our many stops along the sandy trail we discovered the fields of scrubby shrubs we had seen before were actually rooibos fields. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is only endemic to this small region of South Africa including the area of Clanwilliam. This is due to the specialized symbiotic interaction rooibos has formed with the microorganisms in its native soil allowing it to thrive in harsh growing conditions. These perennial shrubs only grow during the early and mid-summer. For the best quality tea, two-thirds of the plant is cut when the new shoots have turned from light green to red. A six year cycle including planting successional crops of rooibos, cover cropping and fallowing the fields insures a continuous healthy harvest.
Along the way to the processing facility, Chris shared with us his wealth of knowledge about the local geology and fynbos, highlighting various fascinating adaptations of the endemic plants to bloom and thrive without rain and temperatures above 100°F for months.
Once the freshly harvested rooibos plants are brought to the processing buildings they are sent through various machines that shred and sieve them to remove unwanted materials. Some of the waste is utilized in natural cosmetics, skin care products and medicines (Rooibos has also been found to have many health benefits). The shredded rooibos is clumped into long heaps, bruised and then soaked in water to start an oxidation process. This takes place overnight and the tea is spread out to dry in the sun the following morning. Large bags of dried rooibos are allowed to age for two to three years to improve quality. Ninety percent of the tea produced at the estate is exported to countries such as Germany, Japan etc. (but not the United States!).
As the temperature dropped with the sun we arrived at our dinner destination, a large rock formation aptly named The Owl Kitchen (its shape resembles the face of an owl). The delicious home cooked meal, eaten in candle light under the overhand of the cliff, fittingly began with Annette’s special rooibos bread and concluded with a rich soothing cup of hot rooibos tea in the cool, clear night air….
Sunday was a travel day. There is no other way to describe it than to say, “If you’ve ever traveled you know that things never go perfectly.” I had the task of navigating us from Citrusdal to Montague over 230 km of mountain passes, through gorges and valleys, on small ribbon roads and straight paved roads. The scenery was breathtaking, the task daunting considering:
- I am directionally challenged!
- The GPS, printed directions, and map all showed different routes.
- Most roads are unmarked.
As we wound our way south through the wilderness we saw two broken down vehicles and two running cars so we figured our chance of survival was about 50%, which turned out to be true. One of our cars gave us trouble the entire day and finally broke down 3 km from our destination. Thankfully it was downhill into town and we were able to coast to the hotel! We even received a replacement car for the second half of the trip. We are most thankful!
Well, that concludes my section of our saga of surprises….
On Friday October 7th, 2011, our group of fine horticulturists, reeling from the most amazing experiences in Cape Town, headed north. Our first stop was a ‘darling’ little town called Darling. While we traversed through horse and cattle farms, we finally arrived at our first stop, a wildflower tour of Burgherspost Nature Reserve. We were greeted by Jacques van der Merwe, who is the conservation specialist for the reserve. Even though we were slightly late in seeing the peak of flowers for South Africa’s springtime, what an amazing tour we had! We piled into two off-road vehicles to discover and learn about the fynbos and renosterveld vegetation that is so special and specific to that area. Fynbos vegetation includes Restiods (grasses), Ericoids, (heath family), and Protiods (Proteas) and are mostly found in sandy soils. Renosterveld includes families such as Asteraceae and bulbs which thrive better in clay soils. The total acreage is approximately 3000 hectares. 1200 of which is being conserved and monitored. So many of the species in this particular area are in a delicate existence, and our group was amazed to learn that approximately 45 species within a two hectare range of wetlands are endangered!
Since so much of the existing reserve was cultivated in recent years, it has taken the fynbos and renosterveld a long time to recover. Jacques and his team are devoting to making sure the area is being managed in a way that will increase biodiversity and a more sustainable balanced ecosystem.
Many of the most unusual species of the renosterveld and fynbos that were encountered are Hyobanche sanguinea, a fleshy root parasite, Boegoe, a medicinal plant, Moraea bellandinni , Ixia paniculata, and Nemesia barbata. The Cape Rain Daisies, Dimorphotheca nudicaulis, are EVERYWHERE!!
While traversing in the back of the vehicles, and in between various conversations and a lovely rendition of ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’….Don’t ask!!… , we were luck y to encounter a heard of wild plains zebra. The inquisitive herd (two separate families actually), stood long enough for us to take some snapshots before moving on. Other noted species of animal that inhabit the reserve are the local Blesbok, the elusive Eland, Bontebok, the Cape Claw Otter, and the Honey Badger.
After a truly amazing experience at Burgherspost, we were ready to take off! Thank you Jacques!!!
We were ready for lunch, then a guided tour of Duckkitt Nursery, which is a local orchid production facility……Whoa!!! Unfortunately, our plans quickly changed!! Shortly after leaving the nature reserve, one of our vehicles struck a rock on the dusty dirt road that lead us out of the reserve….Flat tire!!!
This is where things get interesting….We would like to give a shout out to Tim Snyder, our fellow classmate, for stepping up and changing the flat in record time! You’re the best Tim!!
When our sun soaked, weary bodies were able to finally decompress, we took in a healthy lunch in the little town of Darling before heading out to our next destination of Citrusdal. Even though our directions took us approximately 35 kilometers down a very long dusty bumpy road before finally hitting pavement, we couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. We were truly experiencing the South African countryside in its most primal state.
John Moore, PG Class of 2011
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
Hello Everyone! As Summer and Nicole have mentioned, we arrived a little late to Cape Town but have not let our educational experience suffer one bit. Over the past three days we undertook three horticultural, and simply cultural, adventures.
After settling in, the indefatigable Erin Frances Feeney and myself led the group on a historical tour through Cape Town. We first stopped at Company Gardens, a truly public garden in the heart of Cape Town. Company Gardens was founded by the Dutch East India Trading Company upon the founding of the city to provide produce for the Company. It has since developed into a free public display garden, complete with a rose garden, herb garden, succulent garden and a large tree walk, including a massive specimen of our very own Taxodium distichum. What we were most excited about was the amount of use the park received. It is the middle of a very concrete heavy part of the city with very little green space, so this urban oasis was swarmed with families, young couples, tourists and people of all sorts enjoying the public space. After Company Gardens, we travelled to a number of historical landmarks, including St. George’s Cathedral, South Africa’s Parliament, and the Castle of Good Hope, which represent different parts of South Africa and Cape Town’s history, from founding all the way through apartheid.
The next morning we went on a native flora hike through Table Mountain National Park. While we were originally scheduled to hike up Table Mountain itself and Cable Car back down, destiny waylaid us again, as the Cable Car was closed. Instead, we followed the advice of our superb host “Utah” (Pronounced as such, but we’re not positive of the exact spelling) and went for a hike up Lion’s Head, a 669 meter peak between the Atlantic Ocean and the heart of Cape Town, just west of Table Mountain itself. As it turns out, the hike was spectacular, and we were all happy to have the 360 degree views showing the city, the mountain, and the ocean. Additionally, the plants had us stopping every five minutes to gasp in excitement and wonderment, as we tried to at least narrow our new discoveries down to families. The hike involved circling the entire peak, then climbing straight up the mountain on ladders, grips and even chains to reach the top. Our physical endurance and senses of adventure paid off, as the views from the top were simply breathtaking, and the journey there was worth every step. See below for more pictures both of the surrounding views, and the puzzling flora.
After our hike and a remarkable lunch at the Cape Farmhouse (they deserve a plug after the meal we received) we ventured into Cape Point to go on a guided Fynbos tour. Our guide was Gael Gray, who runs Good Hope Nursery and Farmstall (http://goodhopenursery.wordpress.com/). Gael was a delightful soul, in addition to being an accomplished plantswoman, and took us for a tour of her native Fynbos ecosystem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fynbos). Gael provided contrast knowledge, answering nearly all of our plant inquiries, including a number of burning questions from the hike, and sharing her excitement about a number of rare and unusual plants she had found on the walk. Some of the more exciting plants included a number of Proteas such as the king Protea and Leucospermum, Edmundia, and even some of their Lobelias. There was almost too much to absorb in the short walk, but luckily, we’re travelling to Kirstenbosch tomorrow for a full tour, so we’ll have a chance to see it all again!
Thanks for checking in on us, we’re all happy and healthy. Erin will be back within the next day or two to talk about Kirstenbosch.
Cheers!~ John Whipple
After a full 48 hours of travel time full of airport snacks, missed flights and sleepy heads …we perservered! Our feet are grounded as we take in the South African air in the heart of Cape Town right in the Tamboerskloof neighborhood. We have checked into Tintagel guesthouse, a charming 18th century Victorian house with wonderful and accomodating hosts. Although sleep deprived and a bit behind schedule, we are already quite cozy here with its simple furnishings and layout and a little veranda off the dining room trellised by wisteria vines in full bloom! We left the first hints of Autumn in Pennsylvania to arrive at the end of Spring in South Africa. Today we will ease into our new surroudings with lunch and a historic walking tour of the city which includes Company Gardens, the Castle of Good Hope and much much more. Tomorrow we will venture up to the top of Table Mountain and pay a visit to Cape Point, stay tuned for more…over and out.
We just finished our first flight and landed early! Two more flights until we reach our destination! It was my first flight and I thought it was pretty smooth, though almost everyone else thought it was a turbulent flight. David was asleep before we even got on the plane.
Here we go! Follow the Professional Gardener class of 2011 as we venture to South Africa to take on the Cape as part of our program here at Longwood Gardens! We will be departing the United States on Sunday October the 2nd and returning on Tuesday October 18th. We will be in South Africa exploring, learning and meeting many wonderful and talented people throughout the Western Cape. Follow along with us to check in on our blog because we will be posting every couple of days what we are up to. Also, check out the itinerary tab on top of this page to see our full schedule and check back to follow along with us through text and photos as we keep you updated from across the pond!