Ardene Gardens, Claremont

At long last, a walk in the park!

I’ve been going a bit mad with this latest lockdown and the dogs haven’t had a proper run in ages. Most of our parks are either closed or dogs are not allowed or you need special dog permits, and all beaches in this region are off-limits. The mutts have been walked by my friend around the neighbourhood but they prefer running free, sniffing stuff, rolling in old bird poop, and chasing squirrels.

I heard Ardene Gardens were open so I met my son there for a walk. I hadn’t been there for many years which is a pity because it’s gorgeous.

Smack back in the middle of what is now suburbia and a busy commercial area, this large piece of land was bought for the princely sum of £740 (under a thousand dollars!) in 1845 by one Ralph Henry Ardene because he wanted to create a garden “with trees and plants from as many parts of the world as I can.” He did just that, asking everyone who came to the Cape to bring him seeds and plants. His son continued the tradition, travelling the world in search of plants.

A Norfolk Island Pine was brought from Australia and for a long time was the focal point of the gardens. It is said that every Norfolk Island pine in Cape Town is a descendant of this tree. This particular one died early last century, not long after Ardene junior himself, and at about the same time as the dwindling of the family fortune. The gardens were at risk of being lost, i.e. divided and developed, as this had become a thriving sought-after part of the Cape peninsula. Fortunately the City Council was urged to buy the land and now it’s a very popular place for walks, picnics, and wedding photographs. We saw large bits of shiny confetti scattered – this should not be permitted as it isn’t biodegradable.

The most awesome tree, but truly awesome in the real meaning of the word, is a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). This ancient and enormous specimen is claimed, in a book I have, to be one of the largest trees in Africa. I doubt that very much because there are baobabs that are much larger by far. What I suspect is meant is that it’s the largest cultivated exotic tree. Be that as it may, it is spectacular! The roots are spread out for more than 10 metres around the tree, with deep enough gaps between them to plant other things, and of course it’s very photogenic!

There is a natural spring, which apparently connects to the nearby Black River, and around which have been created several lovely ponds with ferns and other lush plants. The surface of the ponds is covered in scum and we saw only two ducks but no fish. The various little bridges across the ponds reminded me of Monet’s Garden at Giverny and there are even a few water lilies.

The gardens became neglected in the late 1980’s. In 2004, the Friends of the Arderne Gardens (FOTAG) was established as a public benefit organisation with the objective of working with the City of Cape Town to protect, preserve and promote the garden. The Liesbeek River Garden is another perfect example of citizens getting involved and filling in the gap when the City can’t do everything.

Although officially open during the current lockdown restrictions (with limits on numbers and no picnicking allowed) there was a ‘Closed’ sign at the entrance. This was strange because two employees sitting just inside the gate were quite happy to open up and let us in, saying that walking is permitted. Why the closed sign, I don’t know and didn’t ask. We saw only about 5 other people throughout our walk which was lovely.

Here is a full list of trees and a map here.

I was very conscious throughout our walk that the large hospital just over the road is buckling under the strain of Covid and here we were strolling in the park on a summer’s day as if nothing untoward was happening in the world around us.

My tourism business is in big trouble so I have created a crowdfunding campaign to help me continue to pay for my touring minibus. Here is the link below. Many thanks for any assistance and contribution, it is all much appreciated.

About Francoise Armour

I run a small touring company (Tours du Cap) at the bottom of Africa, to show visitors the beauty and vibrant culture of the country I have lived in since my parents brought me here from France as a child. I enjoy taking photos and wish I had learnt to do it properly. I enjoy writing but don't do enough of it. I enjoy walking in the mountains that surround me and I marvel over the views and the flowers and the amazing rock formations. I have a small, cute, clever, black dog of indeterminable breed, named Vida, who reminds me regularly that walking and getting out is not only for when tourists want it.

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A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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