The establishment of a botanical garden in Pietermaritzburg in 1874 was in response to a growing demand for tree seedlings in the Natal midlands. Many of the ‘Grand Old Trees’ date back to this period, when the lower part of the Garden was laid out in geometric form with blocks of tightly packed trees.
By the 1900s the Garden had removed many of the trees and established paths, a rockery and prize collections of azaleas, as well as a pond and tea garden. Camellia Walk was laid out in 1908 and Plane Tree Avenue was planted in 1908 by curator Brian Marriot in response to a suggestion from the Governor of Natal. In the 1970s the formal paths were removed to make way for a more informal display garden.
The Useful Plants Garden displays a wide range of indigenous plants traditionally used for healing, charms, crafts, building and food and drink. The Grassland Bed comprises grasses and associated plants from the summer rainfall grasslands which are grown in a ‘naturalistic’ way. The ‘look-listen-feel-smell’ garden was designed to stimulate the senses of both young and old alike.
Illustrated on this section of the map is the blue water lily (Nymphaea nouchali) and the Hilton daisy (Gerbera aurantiaca).
The blue water lily is found in rivers, lakes and ponds throughout Africa. These beautiful blue- and pink-flowered water plants are used in traditional medicine. The beautiful red Hilton daisy is only found in the KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga mist belt regions. It is endangered due to habitat transformation by commercial forestry and agriculture. The Hilton daisy is the flagship species of the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden’s Threatened Species Programme.
There have been three main plantings along Camellia Walk. The original camellias were planted in 1905 – mainly old European varieties imported from England by local nurserymen. Unfortunately the names have long since been lost and even camellia growers are unable to name some of them, including a very unusual large pompom flowered tree. These plants have had several very severe prunings during their lives.
The second planting took place in the late 1960s, with plants donated by Carter’s Nursery. These include Lady Vansittart, William Bull and Mary Christian.
The last planting in the late 1970s comprised plants donated by the United States Department of Agriculture – Kramer’s Supreme, Ville de Nantes and Michael Jackson. The best time to view these camellias is from mid-June until the end of August.
With the assistance of the KZN Camellia Society, pathways in this section have been paved and benches added. This is the most beautiful section during winter to spring, with flowers bright and colourful, providing the perfect backdrop for weddings and creating a sense of belonging for flower lovers.
The most famous visitor to this section was President Paul Kruger, who planted a Camellia japonica in April 1891. From 1892 onwards the Garden provided flowers for exhibition at shows. Because of the beautiful flowers in this garden, and an attractive fragrance from surrounding Jasminum and Osmanthus fragrans inside this garden, and the azaleas forming a front hedge with a show of flowers of various colours, the pathway in between has been declared “The Lovers Lane”. The latest addition to this area is a gazebo for a Wedding Garden.For more information about the Wedding Garden please contact Bathabile Ndlovu (Wedding Garden Project Manager) on +27 (0)33 344 3585.
Zulu Demonstration Garden
The Zulu Demonstration Garden is built on the site of the previous Zulu Medicinal Garden, which consisted of a beehive hut and Zulu muthi garden. While the hut has been rebuilt, many of the original trees are still grow on the site, providing shade and lending structure to the new garden. The Zulu Demonstration Garden is divided into four theme gardens:
The Zulu Pharmacy – Plants used in traditional medicine, health and beauty.These useful plants have various culinary, medicinal and cultural uses. Some plants treat headaches, snakebites etc. Over a thousand different plants are used in Zulu culture for medicinal purposes alone. Many of these plants are becoming threatened due to over-harvesting of wild populations. This exciting garden aims to broaden public awareness on the importance and value of our useful plants.
Zulu Arts and Crafts – Plants used for building, weaving and textiles.
This section aims at educating the public about the means that the Zulu people have implemented in the past to earn their living and still do today in some parts of northern Zululand.
Zulu Magic and Charms – Plants with spiritual significance in Zulu culture and folklore. Most Zulu homesteads are protected by plants from lightning and witchcraft.
The Zulu kitchen garden – Food plants that are either planted around the homestead or harvested directly from the wild as required.
It is said that no one ever went to bed hungry in an old Zulu society, and this was due to their skills of farming, using what is called permaculture today.
Bartering was a trading method used to share all sorts of crops and ensure that everyone had food. This section aims to educate the public about getting back to basics and producing their own food.This garden also teaches visitors about rituals, ceremonies, songs and music, dances, storytelling and clothing associated with Zulu culture.
Storyboards are used to interpret aspects of Zulu culture. Through interpretation visitors will learn more about the fascinating traditional culture, society, history and beliefs of the Zulu people – one of the most significant and influential tribal groups in South Africa. Discover how Zulu spirituality and religion influences their unique ceremonies, rituals, music, songs and dances; and how the indigenous plants of KwaZulu-Natal form part of their everyday lives.
Gain insight into how the oral tradition of Zulu storytelling and use of lore, proverb helps consecutive Zulu generations in understanding and interpreting the natural world of plants and animals. Look at displays of cultural weapons, woven baskets, mats, clay pots, utensils, bead work and musical instruments inside the traditional beehive hut.To book cultural tours and other cultural events please contact Mbuso Zondi (Interpretation Officer) or Siphu Ngqasa (Marketing Officer) on +27 (0)33 344 3585.
This garden was developed to educate the public about grassland ecosystems, and it is being used by the Education Centre for this purpose. It is known as the “people’s garden” because of the profound relationship between grassland plants and people.
Most species in grasslands are perennial. These plants are adapted in this way mainly to survive
harsh winter conditions. Most of them die back in winter and resprout from underground structures in the new growing season. Amazingly enough, one would think that grasslands would weigh very low on the biomass scale when compared to other biomes, e.g. forest biome. But they weigh in very high, and their biomass is mostly found below the soil surface (mainly made of earthworms).
This grassland section has a lot of hidden treasures that have inspired the development of small scale grassland gardens within local suburban communities. These are becoming increasingly popular as they provide a haven for birds, butterflies and other small forms of wildlife. In winter, dry grasses, aloes and red hot pokers provide a visual burst of colour. Spring and summer grassland flowers, such as
vernonias, senecios, helichrysums and various bulbs form lovely colourful displays. Some species found in this section are very rare and some have limited distribution countrywide.Take a glance and discover the hidden treasures of this grassland, and be amazed by the herbaceous layer with its beautiful flowers.
This garden has been paved to allow ease of movement for visitors on wheelchairs.
Maintenance and management
Fire is used to enable most of the grassland species to regenerate; this also helps keep the grassland free of alien plants.
This grassland bed hosts a variety of medicinal plants that are used in some African cultures to cure various diseases. The process of introducing medicinal plants in this section is unending as our horticulturists keep discovering new plants to be added to this section to promote diversity.
Since the aim of this garden is to mimic a grassland biome, the garden continuously conducts surveys to identify small creatures that are found on this bed and makes assessments of which creatures need to be introduced to complete the ecosystem.