In January the first year Longwood Graduate Fellows were delighted to visit South Africa for their International Experience trip. The purpose of the International Experience is to gain a global perspective of horticulture and public gardens management. With one of the world’s largest floral diversities, South Africa offered the Fellows an opportunity to experience new plants, new climates, new cultures, and to visit a wide variety of horticultural institutions. The group visited four areas, each with a unique history, atmosphere and climate. The trip started with a week in the relaxed, tourist destination of Cape Town gaining insight into gardens in a Mediterranean climate. A spot of “safariing” in the bush of Kruger National Park was next on the itinerary. Then it was on to a warm welcome in tropical Durban and finally a few days in the bustling commercial hub of Johannesburg situated on the high veldt.
Touring the Cape Peninsula on the very first day gave the group a good feel for the Cape’s unique Floral Kingdom. The Fellows’ garden visits started with Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden, one of eight gardens governed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). SANBI is an organization of public gardens with strong core values to maintain natural resources in South Africa. Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, this spectacular garden has extensive collections of indigenous plants. Kirstenbosch has been successful in bringing the locals to the Garden and raising funds from the Summer Concerts. The Fellows enjoyed the funky, African tunes while picnicking at one of these concerts. On the hottest day during their adventure, the group travelled northeast from Cape Town to see Karoo Desert National Botanic Garden. Just two hours away from Cape Town, they were able to experience the desert climate and succulent plant collections. At Harold Porter National Botanic Garden, the Fellows were very excited to see Disa uniflora blooming in the wild, hanging on a very steep “kloof.”
After visiting some of the main horticultural highlights of Cape Town, the group headed away from the city to gain some different perspectives. In addition to visiting the environmentally responsible Vergelegen Winery and the famous Old Nectar garden, the group stopped by the University of Stellenbosch Botanic Garden (USBG). This garden, established in 1923, is a haven within a bustling college town. The assistant curator, Karl Agenbach, warmly welcomed us and guided us through the afternoon. We saw many impressive collections, including plants from the karoo (or desert), Pelargoniums, and bonsai. It was a great chance for the University of Delaware Fellows, to see another university’s horticultural efforts.
Following a whirlwind trip to ooh and ahh at safari animals in Kruger National Park, the group journeyed to the Indian Ocean port city of Durban. Here they met the enthusiastic Chris Dalzell, curator of Durban Botanic Gardens and tour organizer extraordinaire. He welcomed them to Africa’s oldest surviving botanic garden with a traditional South African braai (barbeque) and a daylong tour of subtropical collections thriving in the summer rainfall. Of the many specimens of conservation importance and perhaps the most thrilling for the group, was the gigantic Encephalartos woodii whose vegetative progeny includes the pup in Longwood’s East Conservatory. The second day under Chris's tutelage featured another SANBI National Botanical Garden (Kwa-Zulu Natal), a lavishly landscaped private estate (Makaranga Lodge), and a glance, from dizzying heights, of the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve gorge.
The last stop for the travellers was Johannesburg-the largest city in South Africa. On a very rain soaked day, they were welcomed to Brenthurst Gardens, a privately owned estate overseen by Strilli Oppenheimer. Dawid Klopper, head gardener of the estate, led the group through many unique garden spaces, highlighting its sustainable practices and sidestepping puddles along the way. The following day, Johannesburg City Parks kept the group on their toes with a driving tour of the parks and gardens to see new developments for the upcoming 2010 World Cup of soccer and the Greening Soweto project.
At each institution the Fellows had the opportunity to meet with senior management, research and horticultural staff to learn about the garden’s operations. A short presentation on Longwood Gardens and the Longwood Graduate Program given by the Fellows to staff at the gardens was well received. At the end of a packed itinerary, the Fellows left South Africa with a much greater appreciation of public gardens in a very different part of the world.
The Fellows also recorded their experience in a travel blog that can be accessed here.