Most people know the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens as ‘Emmarentia’ and think of it more as a Park than a Botanical Gardens. I certainly was not aware of the behind the scenes operations of this green space – there are greenhouses, a herbarium, administration offices, and a compost site all hidden from view to the average user.
Emmarentia is a beautiful, well loved park in the heart of Johannesburg. You will find people of every age and culture enjoying this green space – runners, cyclists, families with kids riding bikes or feeding the ducks (actually Egyptian Geese but most people call them ducks), young adults picnicking, yoga on boards on the dam, people searching for Pokemon, bridal parties taking photos in the rose gardens, dog walkers, Frisbee or volleyball players, market goers (The Linden Market is held here once a quarter), and music lovers (the park is also a venue for several concerts including Joburg Day).
Lindelani Nwedo from Johannesburg City Parks, in charge of operations and maintenance at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, explained that the Park has 14 full time employees (I thought it would have been much more!) but makes use of co-operatives such as Jozi at Work together with EPWP for additional manpower to tackle the enormous task of maintaining the 81 hectare park. There are six shed houses that contain mother plants so that all plants in the Gardens can be replaced should they be lost due to fire, flood or drought. The nurserymen who grow the plants in the sheds have green fingers and although the plants are not for sale to the public they are often donated to schools or used for environmental education. Rare or special plants are also exhibited at certain show days such as the Succulent, Horticultural or Bonsai Societies Shows.
Alien invasive control is an important part of the Park’s maintenance programme although the task is often too great for the maintenance team. The Emmarentia Residents Association provides assistance where possible and on 20 October 2018 almost 100 people were involved in removing poisoned invasive alien plants, clearing a clogged dam and cleaning up litter.
I was interested to learn more about the Park and its surrounding suburb’s history from a book written by Lucille Davie called “A Journey through Johannesburg’s Parks, Cemeteries and Zoo”, published by Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo. Here are some insights from the book: “The botanical garden was originally part of the large farm, Braamfontein, named after the Spruit running through the area. The farm belonged to Gerrit Bezuidenhout, one of the first Boer farmers in the area, who received the title deeds in 1858. The farm was sub-divided several times and the Eastern part bought for £4500 by Lourens Geldenhuys in 1886, the year the main gold reef was discovered in Johannesburg. Lourens had three sons, namely Frans, Dirk and Louw. Frans and Louw divided the farm in two, the division running along the present day Orange Road. The each built themselves a farmhouse, both of which still exist, while Dirk went farming at Ermelo. Frans married Judith Grobbelaar and built what is now Marks Park Sports Clubhouse. She gives her name to Judith Road in Emmarentia, while Louw’s wife, Emmarentia Botha, gave her name to the suburb. Over the years Louw sold portions of his farm, which became the suburbs of Melville, Richmond, Braamfontein, Parkview, Forest Town, Westdene, Parkhurst and Parktown. Louw gave to the community in several ways: he founded the Langlaagte Kindertehuis for Boer War orphans in 1902 (now the Abraham Kriel Maria Kloppers Kinderhuis), founded the Braamfontein Government School (present day Louw Geldenhuys School) allowed Boers returning from the was to settle on his land paying some of their profits to him in exchange for land, and he was also actively involved in politics.
The Dabulamanzi Canoe Club is situated on the opposite side of Emmarentia Dam. The clubhouse was built in 2004 and has an active membership from recreational paddlers to world champions. The club has a development programme in the form of the Soweto Canoe Recreation Club which is beautifully captured in the film “Beyond the River”.
The Park consists of some 8000 trees, large lawn areas and a network of pathways that connect the various themed spaces. There is a Shakespeare Garden containing herbs referred to by Shakespeare in his plays; the Chapel Garden where bridal couples can take their vows; the Western Walk; the Herb Garden filled with traditional culinary herbs as well as African medicinal herbs; the Succulent Garden that was established in 2006 and contains Aloes, Cactuses and Pelargoniums; and the firm favourite by hundreds of visitors every weekend - the Rose Garden - laid out in 1964 and planted with over 3000 roses in several terraces.
Certainly this Park has so much to offer and gives one a break from busy city life and is dearly loved by all those that frequent it. I know my daughters particularly love the soft serve that can be bought at the kiosk and enjoyed in the children’s play area.
Davie, L. (2014) “A Journey through Johannesburg’s Parks, Cemeteries and Zoo”, published by Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo
Emmarentia Residents Association - http://era.org.za/
Dabulamanzi Canoe Club - http://dabulamanzi.co.za/
The Linden Market - https://thelindenmarket.com/
Joburg Day - http://www.947.co.za/joburgday/