by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa
When we first walked at our new urban edge in False Bay, we were surprised to cross a tall dune to find a green oasis. There is another street and about three rows of houses between us and The Edge. Suburbia borders pure nature, nothing but footprints.
From our bay window we see Peers Hill and the archaeological site of Peers Cave. Stone age relics. Back in June the path was still closed after February's fire to protect the steep slope from erosion by hikers. We battled to find an approved way up, and having reached the top ... we floundered around in search of the cave. Adding to the mystic atmosphere we found a woman and her young acolyte at the peak, deep in prayer and singing hymns.
Contemporary charcoal drawings show that the cave is still used meaningfully today with Khoi Khonnacion graffiti.
Across the valley is Elsie's Peak. Behind us is the Silvermine section of Table Mountain National Park (West and East hikes). We walked home across a landscape that weirdly feels created for a film set.
Kirstenbosch courtyard houses a 'klein aber fein' bonsai collection. Still shocked by the idea of a bonsai wild olive tree one hundred and fifty years old! Oliver.
Colonel Bird's bath is bordered with clinker bricks, used as ballast on Dutch East India ships. Spring water bubbles up from the mountain slope. The reasons why Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden was founded here, is water, good soil, and Cecil John Rhodes had left his land to the nation in 1902. Our flagship garden was born on 1 July 1913.
Oak trees were planted to provide acorns for the previous pig farm. They drop their leaves all at once. That dense mat obstructs our indigenous bulbs and annuals. We went on two guided walks, first pollinators, then wetlands. Our streams form in dark rocky clefts, no light to support algae, so creatures feed on fallen leaves. Fynbos sheds its leaves all year round. The oak doesn't suit our creatures. Fynbos leaves contain tannin to deter browsers, which makes the water a deep peaty brown. (I remember the city nieces refusing to bath in the country nieces brown bath water, decades ago)
One of these August flowers speaks a foreign language. Bottom left red waratah is from Australia. A misfit in our indigenous Kirstenbosch, but with a centenarian's pedigree. When Kirstenbosch was founded Kew sent us a bag of seeds. Only two of those first plants survive. This waratah Telopea speciosissima - I have never seen in bloom before. And the Mount Atlas cedar tree on Pearson's grave, which Kew sourced from La Mortola (now managed by the University of Genoa). In 1904 'the finest private garden in the world'. In front of Castle Rock is a yellow rocket pincushion. A commonorgarden Strelitzia (not pollinated naturally because it comes from the eastern side of our country and that bird isn't here). Marsh rose is a rare and unusual protea.
PS the exotic arboretum trees at Kirstenbosch are living out their natural span, then being replaced with indigenous trees.
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