Round Trip Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

‘I am happiest when I am in the wild because I can listen … I always feel the force of that sentiment when in this environment. I am very happy that you have done me the honour of being associated with this remarkable place, Kirstenbosch. ’

South Africa is home to some 4 000 species of succulent, 40 per cent of the world total. Aloes, mesems, crassulas portulacarias and many other species were planted out in the early years of the Garden’s development and have provided a regular attraction to winter visitors throughout the Garden’s long and changing history. Here, Aloe striata is surrounded by the silver-green of Senecio crassulifolius, with Cotyledon orbiculata and Aloe ferox in the background.

Round Trip Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Photo Gallery




A first challenge for the new CEO was to integrate the talents of the two organisations into a single entity with a common vision and a shared culture. The old north-south tensions remained, but careful consultation, strategic planning sessions, team-building activities and doggedness helped develop a new personality for the organisation. The dramatic political changes of the 1990s provided a dynamic intellectual environment that encouraged positive rather than negative responses. The NBI’s goals were ambitious: ‘To become a world leader in the development of botanical gardens, in plant conservation and education, and in botanical research by the year 2000; to ensure that its programmes are relevant to South Africa’s needs; and to attain excellence in all of its activities’. Despite resistance from some pessimists, these goals were soon embraced by the NBI team

Unlike the National Herbarium in Pretoria – which had large, modern facilities, a strong body of researchers and a healthy budget – Kirstenbosch, as the new institution’s head office, was severely resource limited. Once agreement had been reached on the new organisation’s corporate strategy, structure and programmes, it became critical to source finance and develop facilities for the Garden. Government funds were not expected to increase at a pace commensurate with needs – other sources would have to be accessed.

The Kirstenbosch Development Campaign A new vision and approach was needed. This did not come from the Board, or from hired consultants, or from in-house think-tanks. It came from an old friend and benefactor who had been familiar with the Garden from Pearson’s time: Mary Mullins challenged the new management to make it ‘The Kew of the southern hemisphere’. For this no new plans were needed, but rather a process that would capture the imagination and support of the vast number of people who loved Kirstenbosch. The mood was right for a Kirstenbosch Development Campaign. An initial target was to raise R20 million by 1995. The story of how R65 million was raised by 2005 is described in chapter 10. Here we summarise the process (see Building the Infrastructure). BUILDING THE INFRASTRUCTURE The many existing development plans were studied and rationalised according to one principle – to locate all new buildings below the old Rhodes Drive. How to do this was a challenge: the area was already occupied by a jumble of workshops, offices, storerooms, the tattered remains of workers’ change rooms and toilets dating from the 1930s, a rather swampy old pasture and an abandoned quarry. A process of musical chairs had to be implemented – juggling old and new buildings and their varied functions. Without a dedicated budget for the long shopping list of needs, an approach of ‘strategic opportunism’ was adopted. The general plan of needs was already there – now management had to match unpredictable funding sources and unexpected opportunities to fortuitous timing of events.

One of the first projects of the Kirstenbosch Development Campaign was the construction of the Mary Mullins Walkway through the Protea Garden, previously inaccessible to most visitors. In the foreground are orange and yellow forms of Wild Dagga Leonotis leonurus.

The first project, in 1991, was to complete the restoration of Pearson House to serve as a modest but comfortable office unit and Board meeting facility. Here the skills of Cape Town architect David van den Heever proved a great success. The NBI’s Daan Botha, Director of Gardens and Horticulture, monitored construction works. Botha and Van den Heever made an excellent team for the whole programme. Next came new change rooms, mess rooms and toilets for the Garden workers – completed in 1992 with funds squeezed out of corners of the existing budget.

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