Vehicle access to Kirstenbosch has been altered at regular intervals, as the demands of road usage in the area have increased. The original horse trail, along which Rhodes had planted figs, camphors, pines and chestnuts to provide shade on his excursions from Groote Schuur to Constantia, soon proved inadequate. The main road up Wynberg hill was realigned in 1914, reducing its impact on the Garden. In 1938 the entrance to the Garden at the upper end of Bishopscourt Road had to be replaced because heavy vehicular traffic was endangering pedestrian visitors. A new entrance road was constructed lower down the hill, flanked by imposing stone piers at its gate. An elegant stone bell tower was erected at the gates in 1940 to commemorate the contribution made by Sir Lionel Phillips to the Garden’s establishment. A beautiful ship’s bell, recovered from HMSDominion, was installed, and continues to this day to announce working hours, its mellow peals being heard right across the Garden. The new access road now led up to the Tea House in the heart of the garden, to which a large car park and an unsightly toilet block were added in 1968.
One of Rycroft’s greatest triumphs was preventing a freeway from being built across the Garden. The lower reaches of Kirstenbosch remained divided until 1957, when Rhodes Drive was diverted to its current position along the Garden’s lower boundary. It was, at the time, assumed that the road-access problems had been finally resolved. But, in the early 1970s, the City of Cape Town initiated the development of an ambitious freeway system, one arm of which was planned to cut across Kirstenbosch. On 12 November 1971, on the occasion of the official opening of the new reservoir that had been constructed at the head of Silver Tree Ridge, Rycroft launched a vigorous campaign against the freeway’s proposed routing. The media and the public of Cape Town rallied to Rycroft’s call for support, and after several years the ‘Battle of the Road’ had been won – or so it seemed. In the mid-1980s the proposal was once again raised by the City, sending pulses of anxiety through the Garden. But by that date Kirstenbosch had been declared a National Monument, curbing any immediate prospect of the freeway’s development.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Map Location Photo Gallery
Many fine specimens of English Oaks, Stone Pines, Camphor Trees and Moreton Bay Figs gave a parkland structure to the Garden during its early years.
When Rycroft arrived at Kirstenbosch it still had the legacy of its former use as a farm, even after 40 years of development. Exotic trees – English Oaks, Stone Pines, gums, Camphor Trees, and many aggressively invasive species competed for space – most especially on the margins of the natural forests of the Upper Kirstenbosch Nature Reserve. The Camphor Trees, Moreton Bay Figs and Stone Pines planted along Rhodes Drive remained sacrosanct, as did many of the large oaks planted by Eksteen in the 1830s. Under Rycroft’s watch, a pine plantation on the southwestern boundary – Silver Tree Ridge – was harvested once mature, and the eucalypts that formed a fire belt along the ridge were gradually removed. But the real threat to the Garden was that of the invasive acacias, Cluster Pines, hakeas and brambles that infested much of its upper reaches.
Rycroft, sharing the concerns expressed by Pearson regarding invasive plants, embarked on an alien removal programme. Here the Garden’s Curator, Jack Marais, played a sterling role. With a team of dedicated, energetic workmen, he implemented a vigorous clearing campaign, which Marais described as ‘a magnificent obsession’. By the end of Marais’ tenure in 1979, Kirstenbosch was free of the key invasive plants. In particular, his efforts led to the restoration of the indigenous forests of Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge, the southernmost outliers of the great Afrotemperate Forest system that extends in a broken archipelago of forest patches from the Cape across Africa to Uganda, Ethiopia and Cameroon.
Images from the Garden’s formative years show the corner of the main circular path just below the Otter Pond, in 1920 and 1925 respectively.
The first large cycad specimens were planted in 1918, having been railed to Cape Town from