I once led a tour group to South Africa and fell in love with a beautiful spot there: the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town. I’d never seen anything like it and would love to be able to go back again.
The first thing of note about Kirstenbosch is its location: the 1,304-acre estate is located at the base of Table Mountain (more than 1,000 metres at its highest point), which provides a dramatic background for the plantings. How can you go wrong with landscape design when Mother Nature provides such a breathtaking view? Wisely, the botanical garden’s management has left a section of the estate wild, a natural blend of shrubland (“fynbos”) and forest. The dominant tree species is the striking silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum), with silky, silvery green leaves—a treasure in its own right.
Kirstenbosch was first settled by Dutch immigrants in the 1600s, getting its name from a local family, the Kirstens. Under British occupation, a series of owners assembled a vast estate called Groote Schuur, whose final owner was Cecil Rhodes. The British-born diamond tycoon and politician subdivided the estate, bequeathing the part known as Kirstenbosch to the people of South Africa when he died in 1902. Development of the botanical garden began in 1913 under the direction of Henry Harold Pearson, professor of Botany at South African College.
The garden itself occupies 92 acres of the estate, and in the two days I spent there, I didn’t have enough time to take it all in. Imagine more than 6,000 species, most of them new to me, since this botanical garden specializes in plants native to South Africa. The Peninsula Garden alone includes 2,500 species endemic to the Cape region.