It may appear strange to think of a garden in Main Road Claremont as being in the countryside but in 1845 when this garden was first developed it was farmland around Cape Town. I am talking about the Arderne Gardens.I have for many years wanted to visit the garden, after reading a book belonging to our daughter in law about the Ardernes and their Garden. She is a 5th generation descendant of Henry Matthew, who took over the garden after the death of his father Ralph Henry who started the garden.
What a treat awaited us! On a recent visit to Cape Town on a very humid February afternoon, my husband and I were greeted by the security at the entrance gates and were told to try at the pharmacy across the road to procure a self guided brochure of the garden. Unfortunately there weren’t any available so having made notes of worthwhile trees to look for before the visit we were just about to carry on when the security insisted that we should try the BP garage close by and fortunately were successful with our quest. The informative booklet gives a short history of the garden and a guide to the Champion trees of Arderne.
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry initiated a project to identify ‘Champion Trees’ worthy of special protection throughout South Africa. Such trees are deserving of protection because of their remarkable size, age, aesthetic, cultural, historic or tourist value. There are six such important trees in the Arderne Garden. This is the biggest collection of official Champion Trees in South Africa. I had heard previously that the gardens had been neglected and unsafe to visit but this is certainly not the case now.
This must be credited to the wonderful work being carried out by the ‘Friends of the Arderne Gardens’. How wonderful it is to have the paths and walkways in good order, benches to sit on, rubbish bins discreetly placed and what really struck us was the care which is being lavished on the trees and plants with huge piles of mulch and compost ready to be placed on the beds. Well done to the people responsible for generating interest and caring for this rich heritage.
The hydrangeas, camellias and tree ferns must have born witness to the many ladies in their Victorian finery wandering along the pathways from the houses that the Ardernes built and which sadly are no longer there. Now it plays host to many a wedding party also dressed in gracious attire.
Since our visit we have told many friends about the garden and suggested that they visit. To sit quietly on a bench and cast eyes upwards and see a Cedar of Babylon,[Mediterranean Cedrus Libani] 23m high, with its biblical connection or to see how a cork oak [Quercus suber] height 16m, which has leaned over a pool and whose roots have tilted a very old bench will fill one with a sense of history.
To see giant trees which have been able to reach their girth naturally is special. Having lived and had the privilege of gardening in a historic farm garden in KZN with one Champion Tree from the list, I was overcome by the vision of Ralph Henry who developed and laid out a garden that would grow into a wonderful place for future generations to visit.
Our last stop before tearing myself away, was near the giant Moreton Bay Fig ,[Eastern Australia] Ficus macrophylla height 37m which is right at the entrance to the garden. Having already seen it, I just had to revisit this giant and thank goodness I did. There was a group of children and their parents who were doing just what little ones should do . They were clambering all over the huge protruding roots, being hoisted up unto a limb of it and playing hide and seek around the trunk. Something I definitely did as a child. One liitle girl said to her mother,’ Mummy I just love this tree’!
What can I say to add to her comments, other than to beseach you to visit this amazing legacy of the Ardernes and let your mind go back in time to the countless number of birds, insects and people who have benefitted from the Ardernes foresight in planting what was to become one of the oldest gardens in our country and for free! Yes there is no charge to enter.
The Ardernes can certainly lay claim to a quote from Dreamthorpe by Alexander Smith “if you are a notable and wish to be remembered, better to plant a tree than build a city or strike a medal- it will outlast both”.
Contributor: Carol Kennedy