With a little time in hand on our way to yet again another lunch with the family we decided to pop into Arderne Gardens. Having never been there before I was enthralled by the majestic trees towering over the adjacent buildings. One feels humbled standing under the Norfolk pine, it stands proud and defiant in its surroundings, the roots of the Morton Bay fig is unbelievably large, pushing upwards and outwards, and the old Camphor tree’s side branch defies all logic. There is a spirit in this garden .. the trees talk to you. It has seen and experienced many changes, from horse drawn carriages to jets flying overhead, from extremely wet seasons to the worst droughts in living memory. It has survived it all, and hopefully will still be there in many years to come.
Arderne Gardens was established in 1845 by Ralph Henry Arderne, who was a successful timber merchant and cabinet maker who hailed from Cheshire, England. He acquired a piece of land in Claremont, 5.8 Hectares from the historic Stellenberg farm, around the backside of Table Mountain. He built his home and the property became known as The Hill. Development of the garden was continued by his son, Henry Mathew Arderne into the early part of the twentieth century. H. Arderne was one of the founders of the Cape Town Botanical gardens in the old Company Gadens in 1848. The father and son duo got in touch with Sir William and Sir Joseph Hooker, the father and son Directors at Kew, and the Ardernes sent newly discovered plants from South Africa to Kew (as well as other botanic gardens of the world). Admiration for the garden grew, as the citizens of Cape Town began to appreciate it as a place of exceptional beauty.
In 1979, Arderne Gardens were named a South African Provincial Heritage Site. This 5 hectares garden is located in Main Road, Claremont and managed by the City of Cape Town. It contains more than 400 trees, including one of the largest trees in South Africa, the vast Moreton Bay Fig (or Wedding Tree, as it is commonly called) and quite possibly the largest Aleppo Pine in the world. These trees, along with four others, were proudly designated Champion Trees in 2008. The garden, thanks to the extraordinary interest and commitment of its founders, also has one of the most diverse and valuable collections of exotic trees in all of South Africa. Unlike nearby Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens the focus of the Arderne Gardens is the cultivation of exotic species.
The drought currently being experienced in Cape Town and its environs is having a dramatic effect on Arderne Gardens. The two lower ponds created by Richard Jamieson out of what was previously a boggy area in winter have now dried up. These ponds contained the winter overflow from the top pond constructed by Ralph Arderne around a natural spring whose waters find their way into the Black River.
The garden was well known for the wide open lawn surrounding a Norfolk Pine and a Japanese-style koi pond. Because of the drought these lawns are now in a very poor state. The Hydrangea and Azaleas beds also suffered greatly and most of these species have died, unfortunately some other cultivated areas are currently overgrown with alien invasive species such as Tree of Heaven, Ginger lily, and Spanish reed, Ivy, Morning Glory and Indian Shot. These species are resilient and can cope with adverse conditions thus out competing cultivated species for moisture and space.
When the gardens fell into a state of neglect in the late 1980’s. the Friends of the Arderne Gardens (FOTAG) was established in 2014 as a public benefit organization with the objective of working with the City of Cape Town to protect, preserve and promote the garden. Funds and volunteers are needed to restore these once magnificent gardens to their former glory.
Article and photos: Esther