6 great (relatively unknown) gardens to visit in Cape Town
I’m not going to bore you by listing the obvious gardens – like Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, the Company’s Garden and Harold Porter Botanic Garden near Betty’s Bay – if you’re new to Cape Town, these are the obvious gardens at which to start, given their magnitude and beauty, but a lot of visitors want to know about other more intimate gardens.
We’ve explored other gardens about which you may not have heard. Some of them are view by appointment only, but others are freely available for you to stroll through at your leisure.
All of them are beautiful, filled with wondrous examples of plants, flowers and trees and each imbued with the special quality that comes from being out in nature.
Arderne Gardens, Claremont
In the heat of a midsummer’s day, the cool of Arderne Gardens, on the Main Road in Claremont, is a wonderful space in which you and your children can picnic or stroll. Other than at weekends, when it is often used for wedding photographs (it boasts one of the largest trees in Africa known locally as the Wedding Tree), the gardens remain uncrowded. Filled with shady glades, Japanese-style ponds, lawns and huge trees there is no charge other than a donation box for Friends of the Arderne Gardens who maintain it.
Groote Schuur Estate, Rondebosch
Groote Schuur is a lot more than simply the hospital, despite the immediate association. Groote Schuur (big barn) was originally the house of Cecil John Rhodes, who left it to the nation along with with huge tracts of land along the mountain that include Kirstenbosch. The house in Rondebosch, restored by a very young Herbert Baker, is incredible and is today a museum open to the public by appointment, worth a visit not least for the collanaded veranda that overlooks the gardens that slope uphill towards Devil’s Peak. In keeping with his desire for ‘colour’, there is still a huge rose garden bordered by plumbago and other flowers in a sublime setting.
Tokai’s Arboretum lies behind the Tokai Manor House at the foot of the Constantiaberg, a national monument filled with an incredible collection of mature alien trees – at least 30 of which have record heights for this country – many of them oaks. An area filled with cypresses, pines, giant redwoods and other exotics, there is a clearing for a tea garden at which one can while away a morning or afternoon with ease, muffin to munch and coffee in hand. From the arboretum one can bike or hike the tokai forest and surrounding mountainside.
Rust en Vrede, Durbanville
Still under the auspices of the Durbanville Cultural Society, the beautiful old manor house here is now the site of a combination coffee shop/art studio. Hard to believe that the now national monument, built in the 1840s, began as a prison and police headquarters, spent some time as a residence, and then became the property of the local municipality. What many don’t know is that there is a 1.5 hectare garden here over which the coffee shop looks and around which you are welcome to stroll post tea or before entering the art gallery that showcases both established and emerging artists.
Durbanville Rose Garden
Head here during spring and summer and it is a picture of sweet-smelling roses and buds – a gorgeous rendition of a rose garden at its best with over 500 blooming varietals and some 4500 rose bushes. Good to know that you can top the day’s outing with a cup of tea at the clubhouse, if you make it there on Sunday afternoons between October and May.
Not really within the auspices of Cape Town, but worthy of a mention nonetheless for its boldness. This gorgeous eight-acre fruit and vegetable garden in Paarl, set against the Drakenstein mountainside, is worthy of at least one visit, culminating in a meal at either Babel Restaurant or the venue’s conservatory tea room (a cheaper and lighter alternative). Whilst the garden takes its inspiration from the original Company’s Gardens in Cape Town, the accent here is definitely French and the over 300 varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs accompanied by ducks, hens and free tours make it a weekend heaven for those who visit.
Also see: Gardens with a difference for more great gardens in the Cape.