South Africa Highlights: Part 1 of many!

Where do I start?! This was truly the trip of a lifetime. The gardens, the people, the wildlife, the wines… can I possibly recap all of that in just a post or two? Hopefully you were able to follow along through my Facebook posts because thanks to my husband Andy there are some remarkable photos on there, especially from our safaris.

For today's post, I'll focus on our visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden which I know was a highlight for many. The history of this goes back to the Stone Age, but the garden as we see it today began it's evolution in 1913.

Our guide Stanley was animated, knowledgeable and an absolute treat to listen to. Photo credit: Andy Chapman

The backdrop of rugged mountains was breathtaking and truly set the scene for the many wonderful plantings. Talk about 'borrowed views'!

The eastern slopes of Table Mountain framed the views of the garden. Photo credit: Andy Chapman

We followed Stanley to get an overview of the garden and a better understanding of the collections. He also told us a little about the ways in which the garden strives to conserve water – a precious commodity.

The tree canopy walkway gave us a birds eye view. Photo credit: Andy Chapman

View from the garden towards Cape Town Photo credit: Andy Chapman

I was familiar with the bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia reginae) from San Diego – and as a houseplant, but here at Kirstenbosch there was a beautiful gold variety (rather than the typical orange).  It has been called 'Mandela's Gold' and was released by Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in 1996.

Mandela's Gold bird of paradise. Photo credit: Andy Chapman

Incidentally, our guide Stanley made a point – several times – of telling us that this plant did NOT come from Hawaii – but rather was native to South Africa.

Mandela's Gold bird-of-paradise flower at Kirstenbosch

As always, I allow time for solo exploration after a guided tour. This was the perfect opportunity to go back and take more photos of areas that especially interested us.

I was totally enamored by the Proteaceae, especially the pincushion forms (Leucospernum spp.). The yellow pincushions were in full bloom  – I was told the orange form would be dominant in another few weeks. The King protea (Protea cynaroides) was also flowering. I was fascinated by the rich colors and how they were used in the landscape.

Shades of coral

Warm coral shades of succulents enlivened the mass plantings of yellow daisies in spring

King protea (Protea cynaroides) in full bloom.

I loved the brightly colored foliage of this Leucodendron at Kirstenbosch. I was familiar with the genus from California but this display gave me total zone envy!

Shades of yellow

The repetition of bright sunny yellow flowers throughout the planting displays kept the eye moving from one area to the next. This photo shows several varieties of yellow daisies as well as yellow pincushion.

Using silver

The silver foliage of this yellow pincushion protea caught my eye .

Foliage first – even in South Africa! Loved the finely textured silver foliage used as a companion to the bolder pincushion protea

As a designer I'm fascinated by foliage, so the metallic silver tree ( Leucadendron argenteum) readily caught my eye from a distance.

The large silver tree is a protected evergreen tree and part of the Protea family. It is naturally confined to an area in and around the city of Cape Town, although historically it was widespread on Table Mountain, covering much of its slopes in shimmering silver forests. However, early demand for timber led to much of these forests being felled and now the silver tree is a rare and threatened species, in danger of becoming extinct in the wild in the next 50 years.


The endangered silver tree, seen here as a companion plant to the peanut butter plant (Melianthus major) in full bloom.

In my next blog post I'll take you to a private garden near Cape Town, Le Poirier, featuring pears, parrots, a parterre and so much more!

Would you like to join us?

International travel is both exciting and a privilege. It's an opportunity to learn about other cultures, gardens, and history. If I've piqued your interest, do check out my upcoming tours to England and New Zealand as well as a return visit to South Africa, but this time combined with Kenya. Newsletter subscribers get priority registration on all my tours so be sure to sign up!

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  1. Michelle Boogades on November 14, 2023 at 8:25 pm

    Hello Karen & Andy
    Congratulations on another wonderful tour. What a delight to read about your South Africa tour & see your photos. I'm looking forward to the next post. Your guests certainly enjoyed you both & all the hard work involved – evident in their glowing comments. Your upcoming tours look great too. I love your newsletters. All the best to you both. Greetings from Virginia Beach, VA where I garden on a salt marsh.

    • Karen Chapman on November 15, 2023 at 8:37 am

      Hi Michelle, thanks so much for your lovely comment. I hope we have the opportunity to meet one day. Happy Thanksgiving to you

      • Michelle Boogades on November 15, 2023 at 4:36 pm

        And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family young lady! Oh yes, I would love to join one of your tours indeed!

  2. paula jenson on November 15, 2023 at 1:37 pm

    I love all your post and can easily imagine the words coming from your
    twinkly eyes with your chipper accent. thankx

    Also meant to take a pic, but my yellow Amsonia created and stunning accent to
    a bouquet I brought to a friend of late mums and euonymous.

    • Karen Chapman on November 15, 2023 at 5:17 pm

      Awww – we missed you! You'd have loved that tour – hope you join us again some time!
      I'm sure the Amsonia foliage looked perfect in that combination. It was only when I saw it used in a cut flower arrangement at Chanticleer that I began to use it myself! I was surprised how long it lasted in water.