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Stellenbosch U Botanical Garden

Stellenbosch-Students-on-Aloe-PathDorp's Green Heart

In the heart of the Winelands’ oldest town is Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden, a soothing green refuge that draws students and citizens into its leafy bowers.

Winding paths and thick foliage create peaceful, shady nooks in the heart of Stellenbosch where visitors can escape to read, study, chat, contemplate and even canoodle, oblivious to the fact that the traffic is rushing past on the other side of the fence.
The design of Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden maximises the 2,4 hectares it occupies on the corner of Van Riebeeck and Neethling Streets, a spot so central it’s just around the corner from the historic Moederkerk (Mother Church).

The compact size of the garden belies the great variety of plants that are cultivated in the glass houses, arboretum, bonsai collection, herb garden, fernery, water features, rockery and massed beds. ‘Indigenous and exotic species are grown, as its first curator followed the maxim that the world is greater than just South Africa,’ says administrator Viola Calitz. As a result, the garden boasts not only curious local succulents, robust bulbs and fragrant fynbos, but also a variety of interesting species from around the world, including a Californian redwood, a silver tree fern from New Zealand (emblem of the All Blacks rugby team) and lotus lilies from India which draw a stream of visitors when they flower in January and February.

Stellenbosch-Tree-FernBelieved to be the oldest university botanical garden in South Africa, it was established in 1922 by the first professor of botany, Prof GC Nel, who was an expert in lithops succulents. Dr Hans Herre was appointed the first curator in 1925 and, together with horticulturist Helmut Meyer, they laid out the core of the garden, starting with the medicinal plant section.

Stellenbosch-Welwitschia-BudsHighlights over the years have included the first seed harvested from a Welwitchia mirabilis cultivated for a full cycle, research projects on pelargoniums, oxalis, lithops and vygies (Mesembryanthemaceae).

From the outset, the purpose of the garden was to provide an open-air laboratory for research and experiment. Over time, it’s been increasingly integrated into the local community as a public open space and, in 2010, a new main entrance from Van Riebeeck Street was opened, thanks to the addition of a small municipal park of 2000 sqm. This makes the garden more easily accessible from the historic town centre – a visual link is provided by panels on a circular wall surrounding an old millstone in the new garden. The original vegetation which helped give Stellenbosch its name (Van der Stel’s bush) was re-introduced, including trees which used to grow along the banks of the Eerste River, such as bladdernut (Diospyros whyteana) and white pear (Apodytes dimidiata).

Stellenbosch‘We researched the plant selection carefully and found sourcing the indigenous, site-specific plant material very difficult and time consuming as many were not commercially available,’ said Amanda du Plooy of Langverwacht Landscaping, the company responsible for the design of the new section, which is fairly level and has a small tributary of the Eerste River running through it. It won a Sali bronze award in the landscape construction with in-house design category in 2012. ‘The design was quite organic, with rocks and boulders reflecting the elements of the river,’ Du Plooy added.

Stellenbosch-PondLocal artworks were incorporated with the aim of promoting Stellenbosch as an attraction to visiting tourists and art lovers. The striking works, which will be exchanged for new ones every couple of years, also provide focal points in the garden design.

Garden facilities include a plant nursery, shop, information centre and restaurant. The gates are open seven days a week and entrance is free.

Tel 021 808-305 | Website

This article first appeared in Landscape, Design & Garden magazine.