Our City is full of beauty
The Story of the Botanical Garden
This garden was the brainchild of the Garden Route Botanical Society. Since then a Trust has been formed, Management Committee set up, garden plans were drawn up, three successful annual plant sales held, and enough funds to make a good start on the garden itself. Sterling work has been done over the past year in clearing, preparing and planting.
The City of George is situated at the heart of the Garden Route. The town is nestled below George Peak and the highest peak in the Outeniqua Mountains, Cradock Peak. These mountains which stretch away to East and West form a magnificent natural backdrop to the gardens which lie at their feet. Hiking trails for the fit and walks for the not so fit are being made into the mountain fynbos area adjacent to the gardens.
The Southern Cape encompasses an amazingly varied area from the limestone areas of Gouritz & Still Bay, the coastal karoo of Mossel Bay, the wet Tsitsikamma afro-montane forests from George to Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, dry coastal forests and scrub, coastal fynbos and mountain fynbos, renoster fynbos of the Little Karoo, succulent Karoo, the mountain ranges of Langeberg, Outeniqua, Tsitsikamma, Langkloof, Kamannassie, Rooiberg, Great Swartberg and Small Swartberg, many major river valleys and estuaries and the only natural Lakes area in South Africa and all accessible within a 2 hour drive by car from George. In addition, the area has been under-researched as except for the Saasveld Technikon, there are no Universities or other major tertiary education institutes between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. This means that the Southern Cape Herbarium and the Garden Route Botanical Garden have a really vital role to play in the area as poorly controlled development is rampant at the moment. The Garden and Herbarium will fulfil a valuable research and resource function, and be an essential introduction and for all visitors, national or international, to the wonders and beauties of the rest of the Garden Route, Southern Cape, and its flora.
The year 2000 has started with a BANG! R250,000 was donated by a George resident and botanist, for a building in the garden to house the Southern Cape Herbarium and Botanical & Environmental Education Project (BEEP). The Garden Trust can make a further R130,000 available and the Botanical Society branch R30.000. This is almost enough to start the very exciting building that has already been designed and will cost about R700,000
The garden has huge potential. It is a 12-hectare piece of land which was set aside as a reserve in the 1800s when two dams were built there to send water down into George via a series of stone-lined furrows. The dams are still there and one has become a shallow wetland while the other is a lovely stretch of open water; they both abound with bird life, while the furrows were uncovered almost intact when the garden was cleared. A good network of well-made paths and stone bridges over the furrows was also unearthed and funding from the Leta and Roland Hill Trust (WWF) has paid for many new paths.
The Southern Cape Herbarium has performed miracles in its present position in the George Museum, where it is crammed into a windowless store-room. In the new building, it will have windows, light, and fresh air and wonderful views of the mountains and the garden. The original local herbarium (Forestry and Saasveld Herbarium) was sent to the National Botanical Institute, Pretoria in 1992. Jan Vlok, Yvette van Wijk and Di Turner among others negotiated for its return and in 1994 the Southern Cape Herbarium was started to house the specimens and to ensure that the broader community, as well as the environment, would benefit from the presence of a Herbarium devoted to the flora of the Southern Cape. The Green Trust was approached in 1996 and part-funded the Herbarium and its Botanical & Environmental Education Project (BEEP), from July 1996 to July 1999, and subsequently approved further support from August 1999 to July 2002. The Herbarium successfully raises funds for running costs and improvements by offering courses and putting on yearly Wildflower Show in October.
The Garden Route Botanical garden aims not only to present and interpret indigenous flora in a natural setting but also give information and encourage the use of local plants in a formal horticultural sense. A pergola with a different local climber on each pillar labelled with the name and growing instructions, a maze of many different local hedging plants using San symbols in its design and an ethnobotanical area showing the historical use of plants by all local cultures are only a few of the many exciting and innovative plans.
Together, the concept and the personalities behind the Southern Cape Herbarium, the Garden itself, and the Botanical and Environmental Education Project present a formidable resource. With local, national and international support, this should become an important, informative and vital place, to visit and enjoy. It is an extremely worthwhile project to become associated with, to sponsor, to support, and to help fund.