Travel to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Despite the absence of a budget, the Board approved the restoration of Pearson House as the National Botanical Institute’s first Head Office.

Travel to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Photo Gallery

In 1993, Mary Mullins donated R120 000, which was used to build a 1.2-kilometre walkway through the then inaccessible Protea Garden. In 1994 the first phase of the new Kirstenbosch Research Centre was built on land added in the northeast corner – ‘Newlands Heights’ – which the government donated to the Garden after the Botanical Society led a massive protest against plans to sell the land to a real estate developer. To secure the deal, R3.2 million had to be raised within three months – ably led by Kay Bergh, Board member, Botanical Society stalwart and the driving force behind the fund-raising campaign that made the whole venture possible.

The old, stolid ‘Bauhaus-design’ Environmental Education Centre was modified in 1994 to become a much more functional facility: the ‘Gold Fields Environmental Education Centre’, named for its corporate sponsor. By 1995, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had joined the campaign, making R10 million available to complete the research centre. The botanical collections of the Compton Herbarium could now be transferred into the new Kirstenbosch Research Centre (KRC), and the Garden Administration into the old Compton Herbarium building, which was now newly refurbished. The process was working at full speed.

The following year, the project that the Botanical Society had championed for over a decade – a new conservatory (see pages 126-127) – could be built on the site vacated by the various offices and storerooms of the Garden administration. Here another Cape Town architect who had inspired the entire conservatory idea, Julian Elliot, produced an aesthetically elegant and functionally efficient home for succulents. Collected from throughout southern Africa, these fascinating plants were expertly landscaped and curated by Ernst van Jaarsveld.

By the end of 1996, the basic elements of a modern Botanical Garden were in place – research centre, education centre, administration centre, and a large, elegant conservatory. But much more was needed to reach the goal of becoming ‘the Kew of the southern hemisphere’.

The old workshop facilities were replaced in 1997 by the new Visitors ’ Centre. In 1990, the mess rooms and toilets for the Garden workers were in a sorry state. New facilities for the Garden staff were built on the shady Cork Oak lane above the Nursery. Another wave of fund-raising in 1997 won the support of the De Beer’s and Anglo American Chairman’s Fund, Old Mutual, and government. A large, multifunctional Visitors’ Centre could now be built at the restored original entrance to the Garden. At the time, the development of the new facility cost R11.5 million. It comprised a conference centre, garden shop, rest rooms, information kiosks, videorama, coffee shop, and parking for 180 cars and 10 coaches. But the Garden still needed a restaurant to replace the old prefabricated, ‘temporary’ building erected on the site of the original tea house that had burnt to the ground in 1982. After a prolonged and, at times, emotional debate, and partially funded by government, the new R9-million restaurant was completed in 1998, discreetly positioned in the lower Garden. In both these major projects, the young architect David Lewis brought his innovative skills and sensitivity to the setting. A Garden without adequate plant-propagation facilities and a living collections repository is not a proper ‘botanical’ garden. The Kirstenbosch branch of the Botanical Society took on the responsibility of funding a R2.7-million suite of glasshouses, positioned on the warm, sunny, north-facing slope above the conservatory, the site of Pearson’s first venture into economic plant production. The Millennium Glasshouses are now the gene bank of the Garden’s rich diversity of bulbs, succulents and other plants of special conservation importance.

Promoting the horticultural value of South Africa’s indigenous plants has always been a central objective of the institute, and Kirstenbosch has supplied surplus seeds and plants and provided gardening advice to the public throughout its history. It was logical that a centre for home gardening should be included in the Garden’s facilities. With sponsorship from Pam Golding Properties, and additional funding from government and the Botanical Society, the penultimate major project was completed in 2003: a garden centre, entrance gate and tea house, plus upgrading of the old parking area and preparing an extensive marquee lawn on the site of the house built in 1812 by Henry Alexander, then Colonial Secretary.

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