It’s that time of year again: Gauteng’s magnificent botanical gardens are shaking off the winter chill and celebrating the arrival of spring with early blooms, buds and birds migrating home for summer.
South Africa has 10 official national botanical gardens dedicated to growing and conserving the country’s indigenous plants. Of these, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden and the Pretoria National Botanical Garden are in Gauteng.
In addition, the province also boasts the extensive Johannesburg Botanical Garden in Emmarentia, run by Johannesburg City Parks, and the Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden, managed by the University of Pretoria, but open to the public.
Spring days in Gauteng (September to November) are generally warm and clear, with rains expected towards the end of the season. A change in temperature acts as a natural catalyst for many plant species, following six weeks of cold, dry Highveld winter weather.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Although only officially founded in 1982, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden has been a popular outdoor destination since the days when ladies wore bustles and carried parasols.
A mix of grassland and savannah punctuated by bushy ravines and streams, the garden supports more than 600 endemic plant species, while 220 types of birds and small mammals add to the visitor experience.
The arrival of migrating swallows, the red flowers of the coral tree (Erythrina lysistemon) and tiny white flowers of the wild pear (Dombeya rotundifolia) mark the onset of spring in this garden. Look out, too, for the bush lily (Clivia miniata) with its bright orange flowers, and wild flowers such as the blood lily (Scadoxus puniceus) that emerge as the weather warms.
The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is open Monday to Sunday, from 8am to 5pm. Find the entrance in Malcolm Road, Roodepoort. Phone: +27 (0)86 100 1278 or visit its website.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
Occupying 76ha east of Pretoria, the Pretoria National Botanical Garden comes to life at this time of year, with birds building nests and perennial plant species sprouting buds and blooms.
In the medicinal garden, bulb species such as the scarlet paintbrush or blood lily (Scadoxus puniceus) burst into flower, contrasting with the purple blossoms of various tree wisterias (Bolusanthus speciosus).
The Pretoria National Botanical Garden is open Monday to Sunday from 8am to 6pm. Phone: +27 (0)12 843 5071, or visit its website.
Johannesburg Botanical Garden
With a magnificent rose garden boasting 4 500 varietals and 42 other plant families, the Johannesburg Botanical Garden is a welcome oasis within the City of Gold.
The garden, which includes Emmarentia Dam, has been expertly divided into a subset of smaller gardens – herbarium, arboretum, rose garden, hedge demonstration garden and Shakespeare Garden – each captivating passers-by with their unique floral appeal.
Look out for the 56 000 planted acacia trees and spend time at the wetlands watching the birds. Walkways afford long or short meanders through the gardens, without the need to backtrack.
Later in the season, the garden hosts a series of summer sunset concerts featuring local and international performers.
The Johannesburg Botanical Garden is open Monday to Sunday, from 7am to 7pm. Find it along Olifants Road, Emmarentia. Phone: +27 :(0)11 712 6600 or visit its website.
Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden
The Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden houses around 3 000 plant species on 3.5ha of land on the Hatfield Campus of the University of Pretoria.
The garden was created to raise awareness of Southern Africa's indigenous flora by acquiring and sharing botanical knowledge, and providing plant material for education and research. The garden also functions as a repository for the collection of rare and endangered botanical species.
Worth a special mention is the garden’s impressive collection of cycads, which has a dedicated curator. The collection is made up of 500 cycads representing 200 species from nine genera. The local Encephalartos collection is almost complete, while exotic genera include Macrozamia, Cycas and Zamia.
Since it is also an internationally recognised scientific botanical garden where research is carried out on indigenous plants, the Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden is also a member of Botanic Gardens Conservation International.
The Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden is located at the University of Pretoria's Hatfield Campus, Lynnwood Road, Hatfield. It is open to the public via the university’s main access gate. Phone: +27 (0)12 420 6031 or visit its website.