The Company’s Garden is situated in Queen Victoria Street, at the top of Adderley Street, and adjacent to the South African Parliament. It takes its name from the Dutch East India Company who first started the garden in 1652 for the victualing of their ships that plied the spice trade route between Europe and the East Indies, via The Cape of Good Hope.
The Company’s Garden is abutted by numerous important landmarks, including the lodge house for the slaves who built large parts of the historic city, the present day Houses of Parliament, the Iziko South African Museum and Planetarium, St George’s Cathedral (which is the seat of the Anglican church in South Africa), the National Library of South Africa, the South African National Gallery, the Great Synagogue and Holocaust Centre as well as Tuynhuys, which is used by the President on state occasions.
The public section of the garden has been enjoyed by visitors for the sheer beauty of its flora and the allure of its historic setting since it was proclaimed for public use in 1848.
The many features include:
- The oldest cultivated pear tree in South Africa, estimated to have been planted in 1652
- Historic statues and a sundial dated 1781 in the centre of the garden
- A well dating from 1842 with a hand-pump embedded in an oak tree next to it, which is still connected to the well by an underground pipe. It is a symbol of the significance of water from Table Mountain and the origin of the garden
- A memorial slave-bell which is actually the old fire-alarm bell from the original town hall in Greenmarket Square. The bell itself dates back to 1855
- A rose garden designed and built in 1929
- A vegetable garden designed and built in 2014
- Delville Wood Memorial Garden, designed in 1929 by Sir Herbert Baker, commemorates the World War 1 battle at Delville Wood in France, in which a predominantly South African force of more than 3 000 soldiers was reduced to 755 survivors by German forces
- A Japanese theme garden with a stone Japanese lantern donated by the Japanese Ambassador in 1932
- Colourful bedding displays
- Water features
- A koi fishpond
- An aviary with a variety of birds
- Botanically and historically valuable trees
- A herb garden
- A rockery garden
- A Visitors’ Centre and Information Office which houses a pictorial history of the Company’s Garden
Visitors can go on a self-guided walk through the Garden with the aid of a brochure which can be purchased at the Visitors’ Centre
In 1652, a refreshment station was established at the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – VOC) to supply fresh produce to its ships sailing between the Netherlands and the East. The VOC Vegetable Garden project recreates elements of the original garden, which extended well beyond the limits of the present area of the Company’s Garden. Hard work and perseverance paid off and by November 1653 it was reported that the garden could produce enough to supply passing ships.
The VOC Vegetable Garden is not only a visitor attraction, but also a resource to exhibit and teach urban-agriculture skills to those interested in growing food in an urban context, and help to promote food security.
The VOC Vegetable Garden was completed in June 2014 and was established on the site of the old conservatory, between the rose garden and the Company’s Garden administrative offices. The vegetable garden was designed as a collaborative project between the City of Cape Town’s Heritage Resources Management Branch and City Parks. The design was informed by archival drawings of the Company’s Garden by De Meilon, as well as other historical references and material.
The design reflects the original Dutch quadrant layout of the Company’s Garden. Stone-lined open irrigation channels, reminiscent of the Dutch ‘leiwater’ or water channels, still visible in parts of the Company’s Garden, provide water to the vegetable garden. The water is piped from the Stadsfontein spring in Oranjezicht.
The VOC Vegetable Garden is a working vegetable and herb garden, which includes historical varieties of indigenous traditional medicinal herbs, European culinary herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, including various berry varieties. It is surrounded by rustic wooden pergolas, which have grape varieties and granadilla growing on them, as well as espaliered pear and apple tree species inter-planted with heritage climbing rose species. Seasonal varieties of vegetables are grown, including artichokes, Swiss chard, beetroot, onions, tomatoes, sunflowers, celery, rocket, capsicum, rhubarb, lettuce and cabbage. Companion plants, such as wild garlic, zinnias and marigolds, are planted among the vegetables to provide colour and attract pollinators. All gardening methods are based on organic and permaculture principles.
The VOC Vegetable Garden project highlights the need for urban food gardens and promotes the development of community gardens in undeveloped open spaces in Cape Town. It is hoped that this will attract the attention of potential investors to support existing food gardens and stimulate the creation of new ones. Woolworths has partnered with City Parks and provided financial support for the maintenance of the vegetable garden, as well as backing educational programmes that invite the public to participate in theoretical and practical vegetable gardening one-day courses. Programmes are advertised a few weeks before each one commences.
The Visitors Centre
The Director’s House has become the new Visitors’ Centre and Information Office. The Visitors’ Centre consists of four rooms in the Victorian house which chronologically follow the development and history of The Company’s Garden from its origins through each major period, until the present day. The display is mostly pictorial and gives an excellent overview of the significance and importance of this historical garden.
The Paddocks pathways and landscape
The Paddocks is an oak-wooded open area with lawns adjacent to the National Art Gallery and was originally a Victorian menagerie for various forms of indigenous wildlife including small and large antelope and zebra. In later times it was used as paddocks for government horses, and this is where it obtained its name.
The intersecting pathways have been renewed with ochre-coloured brick paving, in keeping with its rural character and design principle.
The circular area at the centre of the Paddocks used to house a bandstand in the late 19th century. This was demolished in 1934 and was planted with Pin Oaks in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The clay-laterite hard surface that was reminiscent of the time, was recently re-surfaced using the same material.
Much of the landscaping surrounding the Paddocks has been renewed and the lawns given careful attention so that visitors can relax and enjoy a picnic on well maintained turf-grass.
This is the area of the Garden used for the hosting of events and functions, and bookings can be made by contacting the manager.
The Lions’ Gate
In Victorian times, lions were kept in the grounds of what is now Cape Town High School. The gates for the original lions’ enclosure remain as portals on either side of the upper end of Government Avenue. Due to weathering and age the Lion’s Gate was showing signs of structural decay and was recently repaired by a skilled restorer.
The Delville Wood Memorial area
The paving at the axis of the Delville Wood Memorial area has been renewed. The new paving links the two sections of the memorial area and creates a visual flow to the Paddocks.
The Aviary, located in the centre of the garden near the restaurant, which was built in the 1930’s to replace an older structure, was in need of a facelift and improvement. To effect this, consultations with city architects, landscape architects, heritage professionals and horticultural managers were initiated.
The historical design and facades of the original Aviary were kept but the interior and mesh panels were completely renovated. New water-features, structural supports and panels were re-built and installed as well as tiered plant bed containers built and landscaped. The Aviary is populated by various finches, canaries, doves and quails. The water features are planted with aquatic plants and goldfish and koi add colourful interest.
In 2011 Government Avenue was upgraded as part of the Non-motorised Transport Network development in greater Cape Town. This thoroughfare is a legislated pedestrian walkway and is one of the institutions of Cape Town.
When Simon Van Der Stel arrived as Governor in 1679 he made many improvements to the garden, one of these was widening the original walkway through the middle of the original garden layout to the dimensions we know today as Government Avenue. Before it was planted as an oak-lined avenue it was bordered with orange and lemon trees.
The garden was formally established in 1652 by Dutch settlers who sought to establish a station at the Cape of Good Hope to service and re-provision spice-trading sailing ships on the long sea route to the East.
Cape Town’s earliest records show that the Garden was originally divided into rectangular fields protected by high trimmed myrtle windbreaks, and watered via a system of open irrigation furrows fed by the area’s numerous mountain streams. The design was typical Dutch agricultural practice of the time, apart from the furrows, which had been adapted to suit the region’s topography and weather.