Botanic Gardens

I really love ‘the Bots’, as they are fondly known in Pmb, having grown up beside them and spent many happy afternoons listening to the Caledonian Pipe Band play in the Plane tree Avenue. I went for a walk there last week.  The Avenue is spectacular in every season.  In Autumn there are piles of  leaves to rustle and dance in, during Winter the trees are sculptural against the blue sky and the sun shines right though. In Spring the new leaves are dainty green and now in Summer it is a cool, shady tunnel of green branches and tall trunks.  Really magic.  Today I admired the patterns of the bark on the enormous trees.

The KZN Botanic Garden was established in 1874 to propagate trees for forestry, but nowadays specialises in the conservation of plants from the eastern region of South Africa, in particular  plants of the grasslands – Kniphofia, Watsonia and Dierama. Just near the resturant is the delightful Midlands meadow which showcases these plants.  The swathe of white agapanthus was spectacular. There is also a muthi garden of indigenous medicinal plants, displayed around a traditional Zulu hut and lovely walking trails through grassland and indigenous forest on the hill. 

We wandered down the avenue and followed the Turraea trail around the dam, through forest and thicket. Two Egyptian Geese swooped in and landed with a splash and loud squawks. Usually there are lots of dragonflies and damselflies about, not today.  The clivias had finished flowering,  but judging by the seed heads, must have been spectacular last month.We saw pale pink Crinum moorei (which opens at night) and delicate  blue Thunbergia natalensis flowering under the trees along the forest trail.   

Thunbergia flowers throughout summer, the shady edges of natural forests show off the blue blooms, perfectly.  In your garden it is best to choose a shady area to grow this small, fast growing shrub.  The ovate, toothed leaves are bright green and look lovely even before it begins to flower. As it is dormant in winter, with stems often dying back, it is useful in water wise gardens. Apparently, the stems are nibbled by the long tailed tree mouse.   The flowers are quite large and pale blue to mauve in colour with a yellowish centre. The seeds are scattered when the hairy seed capsule explodes, so you get new plants every year. According to Anne Hutchings’ book, Zulu Medicinal Plants, root infusions are taken as emetics by brides on their wedding day to ensure a happy marriage.

Whenever my sister, Melanie, and her family are out from England, they make a point of having toasted sandwiches in the resturant at the Bots as often as possible.  My brother, Darryl, enjoys a walk in the gardens almost every day, as do many residents in Prestbury.

I am always astonished at how tranquil the gardens are, despite being beside the busy Mayor’s Walk.  Certainly one of Pietermaritzburg’s treasures and much loved by everyone.  A few years ago, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Plane Tree Avenue, the Botanical Society held a very long teaparty which was such a success that it is now repeated annually.  I remember that day fondly, so have included a pic of some of my friends enjoying a “Bug Tea”!

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