Established in 1913, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is considered the most beautiful in Africa and one of the great gardens in the world. In December, this picturesque venue provides the perfect backdrop for the new season of the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts. After all, New York might have its concerts in the parks, but we do not have to take a step back with our very own music in the garden.
Taking place every Sunday (for the most part) from the end of November until April 2018, these concerts are the ideal way to relax after all the week’s hustle and bustle. Spend a lazy afternoon with loved ones and bring a picnic basket, some wine, and other goodies to enjoy with the festivities of these open-air gigs featuring world-renowned musicians.
There is something to be said for taking a gentle sip of a good red wine while watching the sun set behind the majestic Table Mountain, surrounded by family and listening to brilliant entertainment.
Of course, Kirstenbosch is so much more than just a garden or concert venue. It forms part of a 528-hectare nature reserve supporting natural forest and fynbos along with a variety of animals and birds. So just how much do you know about the history of the garden?
Its origins stretch back to 1660 when, by order of Jan van Riebeeck, a hedge of wild almond and brambles was planted to afford some protection to the perimeter of the Dutch colony. Sections of the appropriately named Van Riebeeck’s Hedge still exist in Kirstenbosch and are a Provincial Heritage Site.
The ‘Kirsten’ part of the name is believed to be the surname of the manager of the land, JF Kirsten, in the 18th century, while the ‘bosch’ part is a Dutch word for forest or bush. Ownership of the land was handed over to Britain in 1811, which bought about significant changes to the area. Two large land grants were made, resulting in the building of a house and planting of chestnut trees.
In 1823, the Eksteen family acquired the land, which later came into the possession of the Cloete family. It was under their stewardship that the area was farmed more formally, being planted with oaks, fruit trees and vineyards. Cecil John Rhodes purchased the land in 1895, but it became quite run-down, with large groups of pigs feeding on the acorns and wallowing in the pools.
The famous Camphor Avenue was planted in 1898, with the land now occupied by the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden bequeathed to the country after the death of Cecil John Rhodes in 1902.
Henry Harold Pearson, a botanist from Cambridge University who came to the Cape Colony as professor of the newly created Chair of Botany at the South African College (University of Cape Town today), visited the area in 1911 to assess its suitability as a botanical garden. And on 1 July 1913, the area was set aside for this purpose, with an annual budget of £ 1 000.
As there was no money set aside for a director’s position, Pearson took on the role without pay. He faced tremendous odds – the area was overgrown, populated by wild pigs, overrun with weeds, and planted with orchards. He supplemented his budget by selling firewood and acorns. He started working in the area known as ‘The Dell’, planting cycads which are still visible there today.
Sadly, Pearson died from pneumonia in 1916 and was buried in his beloved garden. His epitaph is still there today: ‘If ye seek his monument, look around.’
It is amidst this impressive lineage that you can relax and just take in the sights and sounds of Kirstenbosch after a hectic year. It is said that ‘music hath charms to soothe a savage beast’, and nowhere is this more apt than at the garden that blends together nature with modernity.
Whether you are looking to get away from the packed Cape Town beaches or just experience a change of pace, consider the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts as a smooth alternative guaranteed to provide you with much-valued time to bond with those closest to you.
For the 2018 lineup click here.
Tickets are exclusively available from Webtickets (www.webtickets.co.za). Only if they are not sold out online, will they be available from Kirstenbosch from the Tuesday before each concert. Gates to the concert area open at 16:00.
See you there!