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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Secret Gardens of Cape Town #5 Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden

Elias and Monkey
Okay, so it’s not exactly in the heart of Cape Town, but it’s only a breathtaking drive over the Du Toits Kloof pass away – just long enough to fit in a late morning doze with your monkey if you’re Elias. But if your eyes are open the mountainscape is a tonic for any parched urban soul. And then before you know it (a little over an hour), you’re heading down into the Worcester Valley. Signs lead you to the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden a treasure of desert and semi-desert plants – the garden originated on a plot East of Majiesfontein in 1921, but in 1944 its wealth of succulents was relocated to the present spot.

Of course you must bring a picnic! If you forget though, there is a restaurant, but it’s more fun to explore and find your own oasis. Ours was along a shale pathway, beyond the quiver trees and on a green verge with trees for shade and giant dragonflies, chameleons, scorpions and ants for amusement. Artistic homage to insects, small reptiles and arthropods seems to be quite the fashion in botanical gardens these days; there was a particularly handsome dragonfly in the tree next to us, but the signs which forbid climbing on these creatures proved to be an impossible intrigue for Elias, who went around ‘our land’ collecting them all with gusto so that his Dada could re-plant them into the grass patch which Elias deemed a more fit location. He is a busy little fellow, so we were grateful for the distraction the signage provided, because it gave us a chance to enjoy a cup of flask-flavoured tea and a jolly tasty pair of baguettes with salami, bacon and avocado. I say ‘our land’ because there was nobody else in the 154 hectare garden on the Monday we visited. Amazing! It is a startling place. I only hope the weekends are busy there because it deserves many visitors. There are a couple of hiking trails too, so after the flask was emptied and we’d illegally clambered on the giant ant, Andrew loaded Elias into the Deuter backpack and we summited a hill of Malmesbury Shale. And then it was hometime, but not before we spotted a fabulously exotic sausage tree in the car park, draped with its persistent sausages (according to Common Trees of Southern Africa) and broody oxblood coloured blooms.

Karoo views

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    March 13th, 2014 @10:06 #

    Once stopped there on the way home from holiday in January. It was one of those unbearably hot days, the garden was a wonderful oasis and for a small child, my daughter was maybe three then, it was bliss and a welcome break from the endlessness of being in the car.

    Loving your posts about gardens.

  • Maire
    March 13th, 2014 @17:00 #

    Hi Alex - you asked if we knew of any other secret gardens. I don't know if this one qualifies, but at Sts Simon and Jude, the Catholic church in Simonstown, there's a small Garden of Remembrance. You climb the steps behind the church and find yourself in a secluded, indigenous garden. Very peaceful. I go up there often to say hi to my mom. Lovely place to stop and be quiet for a while.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    March 13th, 2014 @21:21 #

    Maire, that sounds too lovely - I will definitely visit there, thank you. Simonstown and Kalk Bay are two of my favourite places. Colleen, I'm so glad you're enjoying the posts:) Elias, Andrew and I are thoroughly enjoying this 'research'.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    March 17th, 2014 @17:15 #

    Alex, I have a "secret garden" for you -- mine. Come for a picnic soon!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    March 19th, 2014 @13:31 #

    Helen, that sounds a very fine plan. Elias loves grazing on the fruits and herbs in your garden - I think it was apricots last time he was there (and your utterly moresome apricot sauce).


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