About the Garden
The garden was formally established in 1652 by Dutch settlers who sought to establish a victualling station to service and re-provision spice-trading sailing ships on the long sea route to the east. It was superimposed on a landscape that was occupied occasionally by indigenous hunter gatherers and modified by pastoralists who used the area in the standard migratory agricultural pattern of the time. This halfway-house was the foundation stone of the Western colonisation of southern Africa.
Cape Town's earliest records show that the Garden was originally divided into rectangular fields protected by high trimmed myrtle windbreaks, and watered via a system of open irrigation furrows fed by the area's numerous mountain streams. The design was typical Dutch agricultural practice of the time, apart from the furrows, which had been adapted to suit the region's topography and weather.
During the 17th century Cape Town grew significantly, fuelled in no small part by its role in supplying ships engaged in foreign wars. The Garden expanded accordingly, and became famous for its plants, which were increasingly exported. In 1795, a new gateway and guardhouse, designed by Louis Thibault, was built. However, at the turn of the 18th century the Dutch East India Company, until then responsible for the Garden's upkeep, became bankrupt and by 1795, the Garden was in ruin.
The British occuped the Cape the same year to forestall any French interest in the strategic sea route to India and elsewhere. The new owners invested little money or interest in the garden and it deteriorated further. Instead, they sourced fresh vegetables from outlying areas, shut the Garden's horticultural function down and closed it to the public, leaving only the public walkway, the Avenue, open. During the brief Dutch Batavian Republic administration (1803-1806), the garden was revived, and the central Government Avenue was extended and connected through to Orange Street. The walk thus became the public thoroughfare as we know it, greatly enhancing the pedestrian link between town and the market garden of Oranjezicht.
When the British returned, portions of the Garden were used to build important institutional buildings, and the Gardens themselves were again given to the Governor for his use. In 1848 a portion of the Gardens was released as a public open space, under the control of a panel of citizens, funded by subscription monies, the sale of plants and public entry fees. The Tuynhuis side remained for the Governor’s use.
In 1892, the Municipality took over the Public Garden, and in 1898, incorporated the Avenue and the Paddocks into it. For the first time the garden was open to all as a right and not a courtesy.
Inside the garden
The public section of the garden has been enjoyed by visitors for the sheer beauty of its flora and the allure of its historic setting since it was proclaimed for public use in 1848. It is abutted by numerous important landmarks, including the lodge house for the slaves who built large parts of the historic city, the present day Houses of Parliament, the Iziko SA Museum and Planetarium, St George's Cathedral (which is the seat of the Anglican church in SA), the National Library of SA, the SA National Gallery, the Great Synagogue and Holocaust Centre and Tuynhuys, which is used by the President on State occasions. Other attractions include:
- The oldest cultivated pear tree in South Africa (circa 1652)
- A rose garden designed and built in 1929
- A well stocked fish pond
- Dellville Wood Memorial Garden, which commemorates the World War 1 battle at Delville Wood in France, in which a predominantly SA force of more than 3 000 soldiers was reduced to 755 survivors by German forces
- An aviary - a great favourite with children
- Restaurant - the Garden Tea Room - a Capetonian favourite!
- Botanically and historically valuable trees
- Local arts and crafts along the avenue
- Grassy lawns and benches
- A herb and succulent garden
- Historic statues
Self guided walks
Interested visitors can go on a self guided walk through the Garden with the aid of a brochure - please click below to view/download.
Cover pages, index (436kb)
Pages 1 - 5 (1.3mb)
Pages 6 - 19 (2.8mb)
Pages 20 -32 (3.5mb)
Map (2 pages, 2.8mb)
Manager: Mr Rory Phelan
Tel: 021 400 2521; 021 400 2621; 021 400 2821
Address: Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town (at the top end of Adderley Street)
Office hours: 07:30–16:00