Fernkloof Reserve and Gardens, South Africa

Sadly, for me at least, I’ve just two final places in South Africa to share with you. Until such time as I manage to get back out there again, of course!

This Drosera (sundew) is just the sweetest thing with its little dew-catching fingers

Our last two days of hiking were spent surrounded by some of the richest plant life in the world, with both trails miraculously ending up within large, well-known gardens. I would say that of all the places we visited in South Africa, one of these hikes presented us with the prettiest scenes of all; the other, the most remarkable landscape of the Western Cape. In chronological order, we’ll start with the prettiest. Fernkloof.

Looking down on the town of Hermanus from Fernkloof

According to Fernkloof’s website,

“There is no other place on earth where so many different species can be seen growing in such close proximity. In Fernkloof more than 1400 species have thus far been collected and identified.”

Schizaea pectinata fern, which we also saw in its younger, curled up form on Table Mountain

That is aside from cultivated gardens, this is thought to be the most biodiverse pocket of land in the world. For a horticulturist, probably worth a look, no?

Just so many plants packed into every tiny space at Fernkloof; the more you look, the more you see

It’s remarkably hard to give some context to the figure of 1,474 species in an area covering 18 square kilometres. No one seems to want to put a figure on the number of natives in the UK and even if they could, we have so little untouched land in which to study them. It seems that Western Australia, known for its biodiversity, has around 10,000 species, but then it covers an area of some 2.6 million square kilometres, so that’s not exactly the meaningful comparator.

Pink Phaenocoma prolifera and orange Leucospermum are a dramatic combination

Instead, I’ll opt to show you what we saw, so you can decide for yourself if it looks an interesting enough place.

Wachendorfia paniculata, a cormous perennial endemic to the Cape

One of the reasons for its biodiversity is that it stretches from the coast–with its particular type of fynbos–through lagoons and evergreen forests–with quite different vegetation–to the mountains–different again–peaking at a towering 842 metres above sea level.

There’s a particular, straw-coloured grass which tends to pop up on disturbed ground, like at the side of a pathway. Any idea as to where the path might be here?!

But it’s not just for the diverse terrain that it earns its reputation. Each and every square foot of this nature reserve seems to be packed full of an incredible array of plants. There is so much variety, in colour, form and texture, yet nothing jars, all looks harmonious–and deeply captivating–jostling in the sea breeze together. It provides a great lesson in plant combinations: what looks right and how it grows together in symbiosis and balance.

Beautiful display of flowers picked that morning at the reserve

There’s a large group of volunteers that go out each week and pick samples of the species flowering at that particular time. We set off at 9am and already the ladies were back from their gathering, putting together a wonderful, labelled display of flowers to whet our appetite for the day ahead.

Our wonderful guide, Gilly Louw, finds all the very best places to take us!

Yet again, the backdrop of ocean and mountains add to the spectacle of the vegetation, but I also found myself examining many plants up close, in a way that I’m not always compelled to do. On every level, from a panoramic view of the horizon, to the intricate petals on a single flower, there was interest and beauty to be found. I loved exploring how the different plants were ‘arranged’, how they seemed to find their own little patch in the world. Apparently the odd tomato plant can even be found, way up in the mountains, evidence of the local tribe of baboons having come back from a foraging trip into town!

I adore the colours here; so fresh and coastal

The colours were of particular note. They somehow looked so right for their location. Very beachy and coastal. But there were also amazing forms of flower and foliage which were shown off to best effect as you caught a glimpse of their silhouette against the sky.

Aggies at Fernkloof Gardens

As we descended the Kleinrivier mountains, we made our way to the Fernkloof Gardens. These had been newly restored in 2006 and now include a fragrance garden, an extensive tree trail and ‘Walks on Wheels’ pathways for the less mobile local residents. It’s beautiful done, serenely peaceful and full of tortoises and birdlife animating the space.

Can a garden compare with nature’s design? Such contrast in this natural scene near White Rock, yet complete harmony: my definition of great ‘design’

But it was also here that both Paul and I finally realised, for sure, that a garden could never quite match the very best of nature. The garden was perfect for those unable to climb the mountains. It was perfect for those wanting an accessible place to spend their lunch hour. But no matter how talented the gardeners, it would never quite be the same as standing at ‘White Rock’, where we stopped for lunch, looking out over the natural reserve.

The shrubberies at Fernkloof Gardens are colourful throughout the year

Paul wondered if we had just spoilt our garden-visiting experiences forever, but I’m pleased to report that I’ve definitely not gone off them! I’ll share with you in my final post, how I squared this away as we left this magical, ultra-botanical region of the world.

Orange and blue at Fernkloof Gardens: a classic combination, sitting at opposite sides of the colour wheel

15 thoughts on “Fernkloof Reserve and Gardens, South Africa

  1. rusty duck says:

    Gardens still have much going for them, albeit way over towards the naturalistic end which I know we both favour. I love that shot of the hillside with the guide in it and dearly wish I could pull off something like that here, especially if it looked after itself as obviously that one does! Isn’t that the irony, naturalistic gardens take far more work to create and maintain than a shrubbery does!

    • jannaschreier says:

      It’s gorgeous that shot with Gilly in, isn’t it? I had to shout ‘STOP’ so I could capture it on camera as we were walking! I guess (just one of) the difficulties you have on your slope is that in summer it’s going to be baked and dry and in winter it’s going to be sodden at times. All those Mediterranean, low, shrubby, side-of-hills things won’t put up with Devonshire clay. But you know, if it was easy it would be boring! Just a challenge when you have so much space to look after.

  2. Louise says:

    Indeed nature is truly spectacular, we can never match it! But I do so enjoy creating and working in my garden. It has become a real joy and pleasure. My 11yr old daughter has taken a real interest as well, given that while I was away for a week she tended to it every day and reported to me about it on my return. Janna, thank you for providing a view of such magical places to visit in the coming years.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Hi Louise, so lovely to hear from you (have been meaning to email and see how you were). That’s wonderful to hear about your daughter! Your green fingers are clearly rubbing off on her and how nice to be put in charge of your beautiful space for a week! I bet she found it really rewarding (and was probably ultra-conscientious about it!). My mum has always loved gardening but it took until my mid twenties before I got into it; I missed out on those younger years!

  3. Adriana Fraser says:

    Stunning! What more can I say? I agree with everything Rusty Duck says. Less is sometimes more – the plant palette isn’t packed; something we could learn from in our gardens maybe — but getting the right balance and right look, especially when using rocks, is an art we (most often) can’t repeat when we try it ourselves. Nature’s rock gardens are always the best. Thanks Janna

    • jannaschreier says:

      The rocks also remind me of Australia’s landscape. It’s so difficult even finding the right type and mix of rocks when you are looking to reproduce the effect, let alone placing them well. And of course once you are over the much-used ‘watermelon-sized’ rocks you need equipment to move them which all gets very complicated. I guess there are things we should try to replicate and things we shouldn’t. Nice dreaming though!

  4. kate@barnhouse says:

    Always such interesting questions, Janna! Nature is a great source of inspiration for lots of us, as you say, just look at the dense and varied matrix of plants. Perhaps the mystery grass which so dramatically picks out the line of the path is something like yellow thatching grass? Hard to identify the seedheads at such a distance, but a nice puzzle.

    • jannaschreier says:

      It’s annoying, I did have the name of the grass–that’s how I found the description of where it grows–but then couldn’t re-find it when I came to write the post. That’ll teach me to be a bit more speedy with my writing!

      • kate@barnhouse says:

        Ooh, I know the feeling! I’m amazed at the detail you pack in to your posts, so never mind. (Perhaps pentarmeris rings a bell? Height/habit looks more likely than hyperthelia and species are listed for the reserve. I do like a grassy puzzle😉) In terms of design, a similar look could be achieved using something like Stipa tenuissima ….

        • jannaschreier says:

          You are exactly who I aim all my grassy puzzles at, Kate! But I really can’t remember, I’m afraid. I’m not sure if I read something on the internet or if it was on one of the many leaflets I brought home with me. If it was the latter, they sadly all went in the bin yesterday…we are moving house so it’s major sort out time!

  5. Annette says:

    There’s so much we can and should learn from nature when we’re designing our own spaces but sadly not many care about having a closer look. I’ve been to ZA as well and just loved it. I’d live there if the political situation wouldn’t be such a mess. The flora is just awesome, I’d love to go back. I felt a very deep connection to the place. The whole country is one big garden.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I felt that connection, too. Just as I do in Australia. I think it’s a lot to do with the fact that so much of it feels so natural and untouched. I love your thought on the whole country being like ‘one big garden’: it really does feel like that. Just beautiful.

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