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Free State NBG – established 1967

The Free State NBG lies in the rolling hills of the central highveld. Hardy evergreen trees survive the cold, frosty winters, and summer rains fill an old dam built during the South African War (1899-1902).

A traditional Hartebeeshuis has been constructed in the Useful Plants garden.

When Kirstenbosch celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1963, the then Director, Brian Rycroft, invited 50 eminent botanists from around the world to join the party. Following the Jubilee events in Cape Town, the group travelled widely throughout South Africa, and included a stop in Bloemfontein, affectionately known as the City of Roses’. Rycroft and his illustrious guests saw the need for a garden representing the vegetation and flora of the central highveld, and his energy was rewarded with the establishment of the Free State National Botanical Garden in 1967 – the first NBG beyond the borders of the then Cape Province.

Lying at an altitude of 1 400 metres above sea level, the Garden is 67 hectares in area. The natural vegetation is adapted to the rather harsh conditions of the highveld plateau. Extreme temperatures recorded in Bloemfontein range from -10oC in July and August to over 39oC in February, with frequent frosts through winter. Rainfall is highly seasonal, from October to March, with an average of 550 millimetres per annum

Most of the Garden comprises lightly wooded rolling slopes and grasslands, with wooded dolerite hills in the northern section. A shallow valley, dammed by British troops to water their horses during the South African War of 1899 to 1902, provides a semi-permanent water feature.

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The two vegetation types found in the Garden, Winburg Grassy Shrubland and Bloemfontein Karroid Shrubland, represent the two biomes, Grassland and Nama-Karoo, that dominate the region. The winter landscapes are dry and brown, broken here and there by radiant aloes and cotyledons and the evergreen trees and shrubs of the dolerite hills. The first rains of spring turn the Garden into a green oasis, decorated by many grassland geophytes – boophone, brunsvigia, nerine, haemanthus, ammocharis and hypoxis; and by the new growth of trees and shrubs – False Olive Buddleja saligna, African Olive Olea europaea, Blue Guarri Euclea crispa, Cross-berry Grewia occidentalis, Mountain Cabbage-tree Cussonia paniculata, and Karee Searsia lancea (formerly Rhus lancea), among others – that provide shade in the hot summers.

Given the harsh climate and limited supply of water, only 7 hectares of the garden have been landscaped, and are dedicated to the flora of the Free State. Following the tradition of theme gardens, the Garden has a Medicinal Plants garden, complete with two traditional houses typical of the area -a Hartebeeshuis’ from the Boer culture, and a Sotho hut. The water-wise garden is highly appropriate to this drought-prevalent area. A Garden of Hope’ has been developed with the support of the Botanical Society. Created as a symbol of hope for people suffering from HIV and AIDS, this garden offers a sensory experience in which visitors can relax, reflect and heal in beautiful and peaceful natural surroundings.

Once perceived as the Cinderella’ of the network of NBGs, the Free State NBG has benefited from a surge of financial support from the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme. Since 2002, an Environmental Education Centre, Visitors’ Centre, Plant Sales Nursery, restaurant and parking area have been constructed, following a sensitive design provided by local architect and garden enthusiast Jan Ras. The works programme continues with many labour-intensive projects, including alien plant removal, laying of pathways, upgrading of irrigation and general maintenance.

An abundant diversity of trees grows in the African Rain Forest.

The Visitors Centre at the Lowveld National Botanical Garden is set in the woodland above the deep Crocodile River gorge.

The Crocodile River cascades spectacularly through the Lowveld National Botanical Garden.

In his search for sites for new NBGs, Brian Rycroft clearly had an eye for the dramatic as well as for the botanically fascinating. Few of his discoveries could have been more rewarding than the visually spectacular gorges cut deep into the landscape just outside the city of Nelspruit, capital of Mpumalanga province. Here the Crocodile and Nels rivers have carved sheer ravines that drop precipitously below the rolling hills of this beautiful bushveld scenery. The area’s subtropical climate, with 750 millimetres of rainfall per year, and no frosts, plus abundant water from the Crocodile River and deep, rich soils, provides ideal gardening conditions. The dominant vegetation of the Garden, Pretoriuskop Sour Bushveld, takes its name from the popular tourist rest camp just inside the Kruger National Park, to which the Garden serves as an appropriate gateway.

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