With so many of the plants we grow in our gardens originating from South Africa, any trip to this part of the world is sure to be a treat for the gardener. This, is after all, the native home of agapanthus, gladiolus, pelargoniums, gazanias and arum lilies, to name only a few. But this huge country at the southern-most tip of a vast continent is a world away from our own experience of life, gardening and plants.
Not only are there countless plant species here that you will have never seen, but also awe-inspiring landscapes, extraordinary animals and birds, and an incredible diversity of people and cultures with a complex history in their blood.
With everything in this country on such a large scale, the climate and vegetation of South Africa ranges from Mediterranean to sub-tropical, and from desert to rainforest. And that makes it one of the fascinating places on earth to discover plants whether it’s the unique fynbos flora of the Cape, towering yellow wood trees in the coastal forest, succulents surviving in arid regions or the fleeting beauty of the flowering deserts.
The Little Karoo
The Little Karoo, centred around Oudtshoorn, which has an arid climate and is home to an enormous diversity of succulents, including lampranthus and mesembryanthemums.
Clanwilliam and the Cedargerg Mountains
Clanwilliam and the Cedarberg Mountains, where the rocky, sandy soils erupt with seasonal annuals at the start of the southern hemisphere spring.
The Garden Route
The Garden Route, the name given to the ‘natural garden’ of plants, extends east from Cape Town to Knysna and Tsitsikamma. As well as the native fynbos and bulbous species, there are a host of plants adapted to the salt-laden air, including gazanias, dimorphotheca and pelargoniums.
Vergelegen, near Somerset West, has beautifully manicured plantings around a stunning ‘Cape Dutch’ house, with massive camphor trees, dating back to 1700.
Babylonstoren, to the south of Paarl, has become one of the foremost gardens in the country. With productive vegetable and fruit gardens as well as ornamental plantings, this is also a great place to eat.
Old Nectar Gardens
Old Nectar Gardens, near Stellenbosch, surround a 200-year old Cape Dutch manor house, and were created by the doyenne of South African gardening, the late Una van der Spuy.
Hogsback, a town in the Eastern Cape, is situated high in the misty Amathole Mountains and is said to have inspired Spouth African-born JRR Tolkein when he wrote Lord of the Rings. The surrounding landscape is threaded with hiking trails through thick forests which reveal streams and spectacular waterfalls, as well as wildlife such as the highly endangered Cape parrot and other endemic birds.
Transkei is a remote region where you’ll find traditions preserved by the local Xhosa tribe. This is the birthplace of anti-apartheid leaders Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. It’s empty beaches and open-rolling landscapes dotted by rondavel huts are a far cry from the modern cities of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesberg, and are a haven for nature lovers.
The Blyde River Canyon
The Blyde River Canyon in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountain range is surrounded by towering mountain summits and is the ideal destination for those with a love of hiking, climbing, horse-riding, whitewater-rafting and mountain fly-fishing.
Sanbona reserve, combines lower density stocking of wildlife with truly awe-inspiring scenery hidden in the mountains and valleys on the edge of the Little Karoo. And at night, with no light pollution, the southern stars rotate above your head as they have since the dawn of time.
David Hurrion has been travelling to South Africa for over 20 years, both independently and leading groups to explore the immense diversity of wild flowers, animals and birds, as well as the gardens and landscapes of this incredible country.
Plan your trip to South Africa
A number of well-establish companies offer ‘off-the-peg’ tour options, including: