History of National Botanical Gardens

TEa Party to celebrate 100 years of Plane Tree AvenueThe establishment of national botanical gardens in South Africa goes back to 1913 when Kirstenbosch and the National Botanic Gardens (NBG, the precursor of the NBI and SANBI) were formed. The late Prof. Harold Pearson, the first Director of the National Botanic Gardens (1913-1916), once said that owing to geographic considerations it would be necessary to have at least ten ‘experimental’ gardens in South Africa, one in each of the main climatic regions, and that one (he suggested it be based on the Cape Peninsula) should be the administrative centre for them all.

The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden was founded in 1921, and up until the 1950s, the National Botanic Gardens had only two gardens under its control, both in the Western Cape. In 1957, through private donations, Kirstenbosch NBG was entrusted with the management of both the Edith Stephens Wetland Park (3,42 ha) on the Cape Flats and the Tienie Versfeld Reserve (20,72 ha) near Darling in the western Cape. Another garden in the Western Cape, the Harold Porter NBG, was founded in 1959.

It was not until 1967 that the National Botanic Gardens of South Africa extended its activities outside the then Cape Province. The purpose of this programme of expansion was (a) to provide sites where eventually the entire South African flora could be cultivated, and (b) to make botanical gardens accessible to as many people in the country as possible.

To provide the maximum contribution to science it was considered that the various botanical gardens would, as far as possible, be situated near large educational centres or near areas of dense population. The next gardens to be founded were the Drakensberg and Eastern Free State (officially opened on 18 May 1967; formally deproclaimed in 1987), Free State (30 June 1967), KwaZulu-Natal (12 November 1969), Lowveld (19 November 1969) and Walter Sisulu (11 March 1982) National Botanical Gardens.

The Pretoria National Botanical Garden, officially opened in 1958, was managed by the former Botanical Research Institute (BRI, established in 1903) until amalgamation in 1989, when, together with the other seven gardens that were part of the NBG at the time, it was brought under the control of the newly formed National Botanical Institute (NBI).

Amalgamation provided the long-sought integration of expertise and activities relevant to the ex situ conservation, use and study of South Africa’s flora; and also the rationalisation of the resources of both organisations.

The Hantam National Botanical Garden outside Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape, was established as recently as August 2007 and in 2014 the Kwelera National Botanical Garden near East London was proclaimed.

Last updated on 03 November 2015
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