After 14 hours, 3 excellent movies (thank-you Dame Helen Mirren) and absolutely no sleep we stepped off the plane into a country neither Ben nor I knew. We had in our minds what we expected and what we hoped for but after a life time of negative news reports we couldn’t help but feel a little concerned about what we may be letting ourselves in for. The concerns however were quickly put to one side when we were greeted by the most helpful taxi driver either of us had ever met. We were whisked off to our hotel – seeing little of the city in which we had landed.
For practicality we had booked to stay at the Kirstenbosch Manor Guest House. Owned and run by SANBI (South Africa National Biodiversity Institute) the guest house was built in 1914 and is surrounded by SANBI’s flagship gardens; Kirstenbosch.
We arrived quite late and tired so didn’t really appreciate the beauty of the surroundings at the time but we woke in the morning to the sound of cicadas and an increadible view over the gardens and down to Cape Town and the sea beyond. We would need to make the most of the two more nights we had as guests of Kirstenbosch as this was going to be as luxurious as our trip would get.
Growing only native species (and a few historic non-native trees such as Oaks) Kirstenbosch is considered South Africa’s most beautiful garden. Nestled into the Table mountain hillside its slope creates the ideal environment to grow a huge range of South Africa’s native flora. We had hoped to wander around this garden in beautiful South African spring sunshine but the rain gods had other ideas and what we got was a very rare Cape Town thunderstorm.
That same morning we had arranged to meet up with our friend and Kirstenbosch’s wholesale nursery manager Cherise Viljoen for a tour of the garden and a look around the production nursery and Proteaceae propagation centre. So, waterproofs on, we walked down through the gardens, trying not to get distracted on the way, to meet her.
I really was not prepared for all that we saw. Normally able to at least identify the genus of the plant I am looking at; the flora left me totally stumped. We decided to call anything we didn’t know either ‘probably Asteraceae’ or ‘probably a pea’ as this is what things seemed to turn out to be when we further investigated them.
There were however lots of Proteaceae to see and we spent some time honing our id skills in preparation for the field.
Our first day ended in dinner with, the man that pushed so hard to make this all possible for us, Rupert Koopman and his lovely, and at the time heavily pregnant, wife Flo; an evening of amazing Italian food, the best of company and lots of talk of how horticulture can help plant conservation. A very perfect ease into our adventure.
NB: A huge congratulations to Flo and Rupert on the birth (since our return home) of Amelia #Fynbosbaby!