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Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town - Cape Town Landmarks and Attractions

Cape Town Conferences > Cape Town > Landmarks and Attractions > Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

kirstenbosch botanical garden cape townKirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is acclaimed as one of the great botanic gardens of the world. Few gardens can match the sheer grandeur of the setting of Kirstenbosch, against the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 to promote, conserve and display the extraordinarily rich and diverse flora of southern Africa, and was the first botanic garden in the world to be devoted to a country's indigenous flora.

Kirstenbosch displays a wide variety of the unique plant life of the Cape Flora, as well as plants from all the diverse regions of southern Africa, both outdoors and in the Botanical Society Conservatory. There are over 7000 species in cultivation at Kirstenbosch, including many rare and threatened species.

The Garden covers 36 hectares in a 528 hectare estate that contains protected mountainside supporting natural forest and fynbos along with a variety of animals and birds.  Kirstenbosch lies in the heart of the Cape Floristic Region, also known as the Cape Floral Kingdom. In 2004 the Cape Floristic Region, including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – another first for Kirstenbosch, it is the first botanic garden in the world to be included within a natural World Heritage Site.

The Kirstenbosch Visitors' Centre includes an information desk and various retail outlets and a coffee shop. The Centre for Home Gardening has outlets for plants and other services to support the home garden. On Sundays during the summer months from December to March, musical sunset concerts are held on the lawns at Kirstenbosch. Craft markets are also held at the Stone Cottages (opposite Kirstenbosch) on the last Sunday of every month (except June, July and August).

History of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
In 1660, by order of Jan van Riebeek, a hedge of Wild Almond and brambles was planted to afford some protection to the perimeter of the Dutch colony. Sections of this hedge, named Van Riebeek's Hedge, still exist in Kirstenbosch. The area of the botanical garden was used for the harvesting of timber during this period. The Kirsten part of the name is believed to be the surname of the manager of the land, J.F. Kirsten, in the 18th century. The bosch part of the name is a Dutch word for 'forest' or 'bush'.

The handover of owenship of the colony to Britain in 1811 wrought changes in the use of the Kirstenbosch area. Two large land grants were made, with a Colonel Bird building a house, planting chestnut trees, and probably establishing a bath (still extant) fed by a natural spring. The Ecksteen family acquired the land in 1823, and it later came into the possession of the Cloete family (a well-known Cape lineage). It was under their stewardship that the area was farmed more formally, being planted with oaks, fruit trees and vineyards.

The land was thereafter purchased by Cecil John Rhodes in 1895. After this point, the area became run-down, with large groups of pigs feeding on the acorns and wallowing in the pools. The famous Camphor Avenue was planted in 1898. The land now occupied by the Kirstenbosch Gardens was bequeathed to the Nation by Cecil Rhodes, who died in 1902.

The history of the area as a botanical garden has its origin in Henry Harold Pearson, a botanist from Cambridge University who came to the Cape Colony in 1903 to take up a position as professor in the newly-created Chair of Botany at the South African College. In February 1911, Pearson visited the area of Kirstenbosch by cart to assess its suitability as a site for a botanical garden. On 1 July 1913, the area was set aside for this purpose by the government of the Colony, with an annual budget of ₤1,000. There was no money set aside for a salaried director's position, but Pearson accepted the position without pay. He lived in the gardens in difficult and reduced circumstances.

The task confronting Pearson was formidable. The area was overgrown, populated by wild pigs, overrun with weeds and planted with orchards. Money was tight, and the budget was supplemented by the sale of firewood and acorns. Pearson commenced work in the area of Kirstenbosch known as "The Dell", planting a cycads which are still visible there today. Pearson died in 1916 from pneumonia. He was buried in his beloved garden, and his epitaph is still there today : "If ye seek his monument, look around".

 



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