Buy it here.
The always amazing Kirstenbosch Gardens will celebrate their centenary this year – and that’s a frightening thought, because it means I’ve been visiting them for almost half of their lifetime.
Forty eight years, to be precise.
I remember that first time. They took me to Lady Anne Barnard’s Bath, and even at six years of age I realised that the tannie must’ve been nuts: the water was freezing – and this was summer! But now at 54, I’ve learned from Brian J. Huntley’s equally magnificent new book that the name is a romantic folly: the tannie actually left the Cape before the bird-shaped thing was built. And I’ve learned, too, that the shape is the clue to its origins: it was built by a certain Colonel Christopher Bird, who bought the land from the Colonial Government, which had in turn taken it over from the Dutch East India Company – and sold it on account the money was needed to pay for the upkeep of the Colony.
This is what makes the first part of the book such a great read: it’s filled with stories and anecdotes (although mebbe they’re told a little more – um – formally).
Next we get a look at the construction and development of the Gardens, and at the challenges and triumphs that always attend this kind of project. I, of course, loved the story of how Brian Rycroft – the first South African director of the National Botanic Gardens, and a figure who loomed huge to those of us who studied horticulture and of the botanical sciences in the early 80s – fought the Municipality of Cape Town when it threatened to cut the place in half with a highway.
Dat hy sy stryd gewen het! Man, ek’t so lekker gekry…
The book continues with chapters on the Cape Floral Kingdom, and on subjects like plant conservation through collection, the natural and man-made climates of the Gardens – and the plants they contain – and how the Gardens contribute to the science of conservation (‘Understanding the workings of nature’). And it ends with discussions on how it’s achieved financial stability, and on the network of Botanic Gardens that has now been established across the country.
By 2005, the National Botanic Gardens were turning a profit, and they no longer needed help from the government – and part of the reason for this was the fact that Kirstenbosch was transformed fro being a show garden to the point where it became an exciting resource for the widest possible spectrum of ecologists, landscapers, garden lovers – and, in fact, the nation as a whole.
At a hundred years old, Kirstenbosch has come of age, and we in the tourism industry should celebrate this.
I can think of no better way to do so than by stocking your guest library with at least one copy of the impeccably researched ‘Kistenbosch: the most beautiful garden in Africa.’
It’s superbly illustrated (I’m running out of superlatives here, guys!) – Adam Harrower took most of the images of the Gardens as they are today, and it’s packed with historic photos, too. It’s available in soft back and as an e-book – and you can buy it here.
‘Kistenbosch: the most beautiful garden in Africa’ is published by Struik Nature, with the assistance of SANBI (the South African Biodiversity Institute), and the Botanical Society of South Africa.