Despite the challenges – among them, of securing an abundant and inexpensive water supply – the Garden has become a verdant oasis in the midst of a now highly urbanised landscape. Theme gardens, visitors’ facilities, a large and active environmental education programme, concerts, conferences and masses of happy visitors have transformed it from a staid research institution to a great public asset.
A brand new Biodiversity Centre was built in 2004 alongside the National Herbarium, to house the new Head Office of what soon became the South African National Biodiversity Institute. From its humble beginnings as a herbarium collection, botany, and indeed biodiversity, has now found a home in the delightful surroundings of the Pretoria National Botanical Garden.
The red-flowering Kogelberg endemic Brunia stokoei blooms brightly against the backdrop of The southernmost outliers of Afrotemperate Forest occur along the streams and deep dark waters of the Disa and Leopard’s kloofs.
In 1940, Harold Porter, an architect and town developer with a keen interest in plants (having been Chairman of the Transvaal Horticultural Society in 1925), obtained rights to a large stretch of land at the mouth of a pair of narrow valleys running down to the sea from the rugged peaks of the Kogelberg. In 1950 he started work on what is today a little gem of a garden, the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden. He was not to live to see his dream fully realised, but, after his death in 1958, his garden was donated to the National Botanic Gardens, and incorporated into the nascent national network in 1959.
The Garden today covers 200 hectares and includes four distinct vegetation types – Hangklip Sand Fynbos, Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos, Overberg Dune Strandveld and Southern Afrotemperate Forest. Fynbos covers the steep slopes of the Kogelberg, with pockets of Afrotemperate Forest in the deeply incised valleys of the Disa and Leopard’s Kloof streams. The streams flow through a dense wetland of Palmiet Prionium serratum before reaching the sea across a narrow band of Dune Strandveld.
Kirstenbosch Trip Packages Photo Gallery
The Garden has seen a succession of 12 curators during the half century of its development. Somewhat miraculously, none of them has tried to force changes upon the design of the 10 hectares of cultivated garden. Fires and floods – some of devastating proportions – have kept curators and the team of gardeners focused on maintaining a simple but effective formula for success. A well-designed circular path, with a second path radiating deeper into the valleys and over a mountain spur, provides visitors with a most delightful walk through theme gardens of coastal and mountain fynbos, dune, forest, wetland and, most recently established, limestone-fynbos ecosystems. Easily accessible walkways lead visitors to the deep dark amber pools of the Disa stream, edged by large specimens of Cape Holly Ilex mitis, Cape Beech Rapanea melanophloeos, Hard Pear Olinia ventosa, Rooiels Cunonia capensis and Keurboom Virgilia capensis. At the head of the valley a high waterfall cascades down into a small pool, above which the Red Disa Disa uniflora may be seen flowering during midsummer.
In January 1773, during one of his wanderings in search of new plants for Kew, the indefatigable Francis Masson ascended the steep rocky pass over the Hottentots Holland Mountains and descended into the valley of the Palmiet River. Of this area, the Scottish gardener had the following to say:
‘These mountains abound with a great number of curious plants, and are, I believe, the richest mountains in Africa for a botanist.
Masson was entering the Kogelberg, which botanists – more than two centuries later -still regard as the epicentre of the floral richness of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Kogelberg was included as part of the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site inscribed by UNESCO in 2002 (along with Kirstenbosch and the Cape Peninsula). It was here, on the coast below the high mountains of the Kogelberg, that a small private botanical garden was established in 1950, and aptly named Shangri-La’ – a place of peace and harmony. This stretch of land was to become the future Harold Porter National Botanical Garden.
The Critically Endangered Match Stick Pagoda Mimetes hottentoticus is endemic to the Kogelberg.
South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea Protea cynaroides, grows abundantly in the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden.
The Kogelberg flora has 1 882 plant species, many of these endemics, and including representatives of the Cape endemic families Penaeaceae and Bruniaceae, which can be seen in the Garden. The mountainsides are rich in restios, ericas and proteas, with fine specimens of the country’s national flower, the King Protea Protea cynaroides, being a special feature.