Visitors to Hermanus say that the Fernkloof gardens are the best-kept secret of the Cape Riviera. It is a place filled with tranquillity, bird sounds and the fragrance of fynbos and flowers.
The botanical gardens at the entrance of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve measure only a couple of hectares, but the rolling lawns, tree-lined parkland areas and wheelchair friendly paths take you on a wander filled with birds, botany and some happy animal residents for good measure.
Specialised beds of indigenous plants border the curving paths, with storyboards and plant labels adding botanical and historical information. A mass of ericas from the South Western Cape region overlooks the protea garden. Aloes and succulent plants from all over southern Africa flower midyear and give the local birds a feast of nectar!
Agapanthus, all shades of blue from lilac to a navy, flower through the summer. The three fragrance gardens present a mix of pelargonium, citrus-, rose- and nutmeg scents. The strong-smelling buchus, evening-scented gnidias, plectranthus and wild salvia also contribute to the mixture of fragrances.
Buddleja (B salviifolia and B auriculata) produce mauve and cream Spring flowers of such overwhelming scents and sweetness that butterflies flock to the feast. The public loo nearby, flanked by the latter, has become famous for its seasonal floral perfume!
In another bed dedicated to birds, butterflies and plant remedies, you will find the plump juicy pig-ear cotyledons (Plakkies) of which the silver red-rimmed leaves help skin complaints. A good cup of ‘tea’ made from Pelargonium cucullatum (Hooded Geranium) is said to ease kidney ailments, diarrhoea and aching joints
Towering trees of the Wild Plum, the Cape Fig and Cape Ash border the grassy amphitheatre where picnics, weddings and outdoor concerts hold sway. Most were planted by Harry Wood, the first curator of the Reserve after it was proclaimed in 1957. His first job was to create a garden of species from the Caledon District. He did, however, smuggle in an Indian bauhinia which still produces exotic mauve blooms in his memory.
Work on the original gardens came to an end in the 70s when the reserve boundaries were extended and all efforts were concentrated on path making, clearing alien vegetation and maintaining the new reserve. Kikuyu grass and alien creepers took over Harry’s carefully planned beds, paths disappeared and dry stone walls retreated into a senescent bush. Three decades later the Fernkloof Advisory Board reversed their gardens policy and gave the Hermanus Botanical Society permission to reclaim and develop the small botanical garden on land leased from the municipality.
It was all systems go! A small team of volunteers armed with secateurs and loppers waded into the undergrowth of years, clearing and hacking. Money for paths came from Walks on Wheels/Wandel met Wiele, a fundraising project which functioned hand in hand with the annual Wildflower Festival. Proceeds from the flower show and financial help from an appreciative municipality produced half a kilometre of wheelchair friendly paths.
In 2010 a memorial arboretum was established below the botanical gardens, with new and old trees and sweeping parkland adjoining the flourishing entrance beds. A jungle gym was added for family entertainment and picnic places abound.
So if you are too young or too old to climb a mountain then visit this special place.