|There is a granite Celtic cross in Kirstenbosch marking the grave
of the garden's first director, Professor Harold Pearson, and it
bears the inscription: 'If ye seek his monument, look around.' It
is an apt and moving injunction - the grave is surrounded by one
of the world's most famous reserves of indigenous flora.
Founded in 1913, Kirstenbosch lies on the eastern slopes of Table
Mountain. It consists of landscaped gardens of indigenous plants
and trees, watered by the Liesbeek River, as well as natural forest
that extends up the lower slopes. Kirstenbosch covers an area
of 828Ha, 60 ha of which are cultivated; the remainder is a natural
It is a living display featuring 4 700 of the estimated 20 000
species of indigenous South African flora, and close to 50 per
cent of the Peninsula's floral wealth. In the cultivated area,
related plants are grouped together and radiate from the central
lawns like the spokes of a wheel.
Among the interesting sections here are the Cycad Amphitheatre,
which hosts most species of these 'living fossils' found in southern
Africa; the famed Protea Garden on the higher slopes, with its
profuse growth of silver trees (Leucadendron argenteum); the JV
Mathews Rock Garden (named after the first curator) containing
succulents of the genera Crassula, Aloe, Lampranthus and Euphorbia;
the Erica Garden and the Pelargonium Koppie.
Two streams cut through Kirstenbosch, both laced with besembos,
red alder and hard fern. Of historical interest is an avenue of
camphor trees and fig trees planted by Cecil Rhodes in 1898, and
a small section of wild almond ( Brabejum stellatifolium) hedge
planted by Dutch settler Jan van Riebeeck in 1660.
Within the grounds of Kirstenbosch are the headquarters of the
National Botanical Institute that administers the national network
of gardens and associated research institutes. One, the Compton
Herbarium, is situated at the top of Camphor Avenue in Kirstenbosch
itself. Named after a former director, the Compton Herbarium is
dedicated to research, particularly into Cape flora.
It now preserves approximately 250 000 specimens, including its
own collection and that of the South African Museum dating from
All paths in the main section of Kirstenbosch are paved. Smuts
Track (used by the late General J C Smuts) leads through the mixed
forest of indigenous trees up Skeleton Gorge to the summit of
Table Mountain. The other route, Forest Walk, leads through leafy
palaces of ironwood, yellowwood and red alder.
There are two special routes along level, paved paths for wheelchairs,
prams or the less agile. Known as the Weaverbird Walk and the
Silver Tree Stroll, both are clearly signposted with the wheelchair
sign. Three trails, Silvertree, Yellowwood and Stinkwood Trails,
provide more vigorous walks of up to 6 km or three hours.
The Braille Trail for the blind passes through natural Table
Mountain forest and fynbos. The plants are dearly labelled with
Braille and large-print labels. The Fragrance Garden, situated
nearby boasts a fine collection of indigenous aromatic plants,
also labelled in Braille and large print, set out in a number
of raised beds.
Kirstenbosch may be visited in spring and summer when the gardens
blaze with Namaqualand daisies and other annuals, but winter is
the best time to see proteas and ericas.
Visitors may purchase selected indigenous plants, books and souvenirs
from the shop and there is a restaurant with an attractive outdoor
To get to Kirstenbosch from Cape Town, take the M3 towards Muizenberg.
After passing Newlands Forest along Union Avenue, turn right into
Rhodes Avenue and keep on this road until you see the sign directing
you to the gates of the gardens.