Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa

Posted on
Feb 25, 2013

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa.

I’m not a plant person.

I suppose that’s far better than not being a people person. Or not being a dog person. Or a cat person. (For the record, I am two of the three. I’ll let you guess.)

It’s not that plants and I have a bad relationship (except for blackberry bushes. Those assholes hate me), it’s just that we aren’t compatible. I shouldn’t be around anything that depends on me for nourishment, yet will quietly die without so much as a scream or a whimper.

The only house plant that we have is a poor, limp … you know what? I don’t even know what kind of plant it is. It’s a poor, limp, long-suffering green thing named Nigel.

I did this to him.

But after a visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, just outside of Cape Town, I started thinking that maybe, maybe I could be a plant lover. Or, at the very least, a plant liker. Or maybe just less of a systematic plant-murderer (for Nigel is the sole survivor in a veritable chlorophyll-tinged bloodbath).

Kirstenbosch is a 15 minute drive from the Cape Town waterfront, at the base of Table Mountain. We took a cab, for which I’m certain we overpaid (but it was still only about $10 or $15, so we didn’t fuss).

Even the drive is lovely.

The breeze that runs over Cape Town doesn’t reach Kirstenbosch, and we found ourselves wandering around in the searing mid-afternoon sun.

There are dozens of paths and trails which crisscross the garden. If you are in excellent shape and somewhat insane, you can supposedly follow one of them up to Table Mountain. The hike takes several hours.

We didn’t do that. Obviously. (We found the panorama at the base of the mountain to be lovely enough for our needs, aaaand we had the added bonus of not getting heatstroke.)

Also, please note that my husband is wearing jeans. JEANS.

Still, it wasn’t too long before we started to wilt.

And by “we”, I mean “I.” Rand doesn’t even look like he’s breaking a sweat.

I suppose there’s poetic justice in that, considering what I’ve done to Nigel all those times. (It usually goes like this: we return from a trip to find him half dead. In response, I pour way too much water on him. He springs back to life for a little bit, then starts to wilt again. Rand insists I throw Nigel out. I refuse. The cycle continues. I am a monster.)

But even in the searing heat, even for the brief time that we were there, Kirstenbosch was beautiful and idyllic.

And romantic as hell. Or it would have been, if we hadn’t all been slowly melting. And, you know, photobombing one another.

Also, in Sam and Dina’s defense, we started it.

Plus, there were five of us, which is a weird number of people to have on a date. Or maybe it’s not. I don’t know what kids are into these days.

And on that note, I give you: Firebush.

Regardless, the company was lovely. Really, when I think back to all the people I’ve gotten hot and sweaty with …

You know what? I’m just gonna stop there. Before I start giving “horticulture” a new meaning.

Rand cries fowl.


Kirstenbosch is one of nine botanical gardens in South Africa. It was founded in 1913 with the goal of preserving the country’s many species of flowers. Even today, almost all the plants in the garden are indigenous to the area. Which doesn’t sound like a huge deal until you realize that there are more than 22,000 indigenous species, all of which can be found at Kirstenbosch.

If you have time, try documenting all 22,000 species. Be sure to do it in the searing hot sun. Don’t take any breaks or drink any water.

No, I’m kidding. You shouldn’t do any of that. You’ll die.

Botanically speaking, Kirstenbosch is one of the most diverse places on the planet. It also has one of the highest levels of endemism (i.e., species that exist no where else) in the world. The whole place is basically a Benetton ad for plants.


The garden, along with several other protected areas which constitute the Cape Floral Region, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

Even for someone as nonplussed about plants as I am, it was a great way to spend an afternoon. The garden almost made me rethink my attitudes towards flora.

At the very least, I might start remembering to water Nigel. Maybe.


The Essentials on Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden:

  • Verdict: Yes! Even if plants ain’t your thing, it’s an absolutely stunning spot.
  • How to Get There: We took a cab, which wasn’t terribly difficult or expensive. The problem was getting a ride back to town – we had to have someone call us a taxi and wait for it to come out (had we been pressed for time, it would have been problematic). Supposedly though, there are often a few cabs lingering around to take tourists back to town.
  • Ideal for: horticulturalists, wanderers, plant enthusiasts, and picnickers.
  • Insider tips: Consider heading to the garden on a cooler day or earlier in the morning to avoid the searing mid-afternoon heat. There are daily walking tours at 10am, Monday-Saturday. And in summertime, there are outdoor concerts on Sunday nights (these require advance ticket purchase, and often sell-out, so if you wish to attend, do plan ahead).
  • Nearby food: There is a Moyo restaurant inside the garden (we stopped in for drinks and snacks before heading back to Cape Town), as well as a few other cafes.
  • Good for kids: Absolutely. The garden has plenty of wide open spaces where little ones can run around. Just make sure they don’t eat any of the plants. I repeat: DO NOT EAT THE PLANTS.


Leave a Comment

  • The Kirstenbosch side is the best to hike up to Table Mountain. Contrary to the Southern side which is dry and without any shade whatsoever, the walk up from Kirstenbosch is through forest (hence the shade) with the exception of the last 100 meter or so.

    It really doesn’t take much more than 2 hours to walk up. OK, OK, in a good shape that is and indeed, early morning departures are advised. But it is absolutely worth it and a very different experience from taking the cable car.

    Cheers, la puce 🙂

  • I’m convinced I have the touch of death when it comes to flora…honestly, I killed a cactus once! You’ve convinced me to visit Kirstenbosch on our next trip to CT, however I won’t touch anything, lest it becomes home to 21 999 plant species…

  • I think Nigel might be a Peace Lily, as with all peace loving beings I’m sure you are forgiven.

    x K

  • Carmel

    That looks like a peace lily, which I have at my desk and frequently melts into a sad little plant over the weekend. My coworkers have pity on the poor thing and bring it back to life. You probably won’t kill it unless you just continually never water it. I’m amazed how mine keeps springing back to life!

  • Janet T

    Nigel is a spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)
    and for a trip closer to home, please go to Butchart Gardens outside of Victoria B.C- 52 acres of paradise and very little chance of heat stroke.

  • kokopuff

    You should let Nigel, the peace lily, RIP.

    I would get a Fire Bush. As a gift. For a red-headed friend.

    • Everywhereist

      Noooo. Nigel will be with me forever. Even if he becomes a zombie peace lily.

  • Beth

    I am also horrific at caring for plants. My bamboo plant is currently suffering, and it is supposed to be one of the easiest and most durable plants. (I just considered watering it before I sat down to read this–it didn’t happen.) When my boyfriend gives me a hard time about it, I tell him pretty much what you said–I can’t take care of something when it doesn’t keep me updated on what it wants. My dog lets me know all the time, and he is much more alive than my plant.

  • I would have never, ever known that such an incredibly beautiful place would be just outside of Capetown. Your posts from your trip continue to be very enlightening!

  • We’re in Hawaii. Yay! But, only until tomorrow 🙁 I’m a relative ignoramous about flora, but we visited a botanical garden just outside Hilo on this trip and were blown away by how beautiful it was. We took lots of photos. Some of them will join our fake houseplant on display when we return home. We also have a very Darwinian approach to houseplants. None of ours were fit enough to survive our ministrations— or lack thereof.


    Nigel just needs water. Peace lily’s need water every couple of days. I just came home from my vacation and mine looks worse than Nigel. Mine is all brown and dried up. Hopefully I can revive it. I have lots of plants and not enough window light, so every winter I kill a few off. I just keep buying new ones to replace the ones I kill.
    The pictures are very cool. They remind me of New Zealand. Looks like you had a good time. Can’t wait to read the rest. ( I am behind since I too was out of the country.)

  • Nigel needs water and lots of it!

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