Uukwaluudhi Safari CampFebruary 12, 2013
Namibia top to bottomFebruary 13, 2013
A walk in the park
Text and photographs Ron Swilling
Every city has, or should have, its lungs – its mountains, parks, green places and gardens.
Situated off Sam Nujoma Avenue, en route to the leafy suburb of Klein Windhoek and the airport, lies Windhoek’s leafy centre – the twelve-hectare National Botanical Gardens.
Golden and tawny during the dry winter months, the Botanical Gardens, unlike others in the world, hasn’t been landscaped, planted with lawns, or adorned with exotic plants – it remains purely and proudly Namibian.
In the summer months, it transforms into a fresh and green wonderland, while in the winter the bleached, long grass blows in the breeze as it does on the mountains and in the surrounding hills.
“Every season has its beauty,” says long-time curator, Silke Rügheimer. In April and May when the aloes bloom, the green is punctuated with deep-red blooms, and the garden puts on its very best show.
When the summer rains begin at the end of the year, the plants happily drink their fill, instantaneously turning green.
And in the spring, the acacias and other tree species burst into flower, their soft blossoms scenting the air. It’s a continual nature show, as I understand from Silke. She adds enthusiastically: “As soon as one plant stops blooming, another starts, keeping the wonder alive.”
To keep visitors informed as to what’s flowering in the garden, Silke exhibits information and photographs on the notice board, updating the displays every week. Information boards around the park offer enlightening facts about the various trees – where they occur, how to identify them and what they are used for – and feature photographs of the flowers.
There is even a photograph of dassies (rock hyraxes), which live happily in the park – somewhat too happily, explains Silke, as the dassies and porcupines often enjoy delicious meals, snacking on plants that have been lovingly nurtured!
But, as this is part of the natural ecosystem, they are left to their own devices, as they are in nature.
The garden initially began in the early 70s as a nature park when the area was fenced off, paths were laid out, a dam was built and some of the first trees were planted. When the funds became depleted and full-time staff members could no longer be employed, the garden was closed.
Thus it remained until the 1990s when a herbarium was opened on the premises.
The herbarium staff members asked the Ministry permission to develop the botanical garden. They were given the go-ahead, and when the herbarium subsequently became the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), they continued to administer the garden.
The plants and trees established in the earlier years provided the foundation on which to expand. Silke is gradually increasing the diversity by adding plants from different areas of the country to showcase Namibia’s intriguing and unusual variety of indigenous flora, with species ranging from aloes to commiphora.
Short walks around the garden provide opportunities to learn about Namibia’s flora and to stretch your legs. A map showing the short trails is available at reception, as are plant and bird lists.
- No less than 75 bird species have been recorded in the garden.
- Reflecting an arid country where water is a precious resource, ninety per cent of the Botanical Garden remains in its natural state.
- Highlights are a walk among the aloes, especially when they are in flower, a visit to the brimming dam in the summer months, and following the path through the quiver-tree forest.
- The rockery near the entrance features several botterboom (butter tree, Cyphostemma) species, and the Desert House has an interesting array of succulents in various shapes and sizes – aloes, euphorbias and the curious halfmens (Pachypodium namaquanum).
The best times to visit
Days not to miss at the Botanical Garden are the first Saturday of every month (or second, should it fall on a public holiday), when guided walks around the gardens are offered early in the morning, with the prospect of coffee and muffins afterwards.
The informative walk presents an opportunity to learn more about plants that are often taken for granted, focusing on the different species, and, of course, providing an opportunity to ask questions.
Open Days, held every 18 months, are big events, well worth diarising, as indigenous plants from the nursery are sold and festivities are enjoyed on these occasions.
Various stalls sell plant-related products, such as elephant-dung paper, marula oil and soap, and pressed-flower lampshades. Food stalls offer refreshments for sale, and children can participate in an art competition and have their faces painted as part of the fun.
The gardens attract hundreds of people to the heart of the city to celebrate nature and its wealth of plant species.
If you are a nature lover, want to learn about Namibian flora, or simply take a stroll, sit on a bench listening to birds and the wind blowing through the long grass, or enjoy your lunch at the picnic tables, the Botanical Garden is the place to visit while in the capital city.
Wild and natural, the heart of the city offers a peaceful Namibian retreat.
This article was originally published in the In-flight Flamingo February 2013 magazine.