The Company’s Garden is Cape Town’s green lung. This oasis right in the centre of the city is a favourite for both locals and tourists. The site is important historically, and is a thriving urban space where buskers strum guitars while office workers sun themselves over lunch hour. There is plenty to do, but here are our top six things to do when you visit.
The Company’s Garden was first built as a refreshment station for the trade route that rounded the tip of Africa between Europe and the east. Ships sent by the Dutch East India Company would stop by after months at sea and stock up on fresh produce grown in the garden—hence, “The Company’s Garden”.
There is so much to explore in terms of history inside the garden. Near the Adderley Street entrance a statue of Queen Victoria stands overlooking the Slave Lodge, while a statue of Jan Smuts looks on. Just over the road is the St George’s Cathedral, known as the “people’s church”—even during the apartheid era, all races were welcomed. It was also the starting point for the 30,000-strong demonstration led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1989—and where Tutu coined the phrase ‘rainbow people’ to describe the diversity of South Africa’s population.
The Garden is also home to the South African Museum and the Cape Town Holocaust Centre here, where you can view exhibits about the atrocities suffered by Jews during World War II.
Beyond that, there are dozens of little historical treasures you’d easily miss if you weren’t looking for them. There is the Rutherford Fountain—which still stands on the original spot where it was erected in 1864—and the well pump embedded in an oak tree which dates back to 1842. There’s also the oldest cultivated tree in South Africa—a saffron pear, propped up on huge steel crutches.
The Company’s Garden is home to a surprising—and at times overwhelming—amount of fauna. There are the famous squirrels, who you can purchase bags of nuts to feed. There are pigeons, Egyptian geese, herons, and rodents, and there is even an aviary where dozens of species of birds can be viewed. Kids love feeding the squirrels, who will scamper right up to you for a snack.
The Company’s Garden Restaurant is a big hit with locals. They serve traditional Capetonian fare, along with standard lunch food—burgers, sandwiches, and fish and chips. The restaurant has a huge outdoor seating area, interspersed with human-sized weaverbird nests to clamber in. The food is simple but delicious, and they have a variety of juices, beers, milkshakes, and wines. It’s a lovely place to enjoy a city centre lunch, and beneath the large trees among the reeds, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had escaped the city.
The garden is also home to the South African National Gallery. The gallery houses an impressive permanent collection of South African, African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish art. It includes some of South Africa’s most seminal works, such as Judith Butler’s The Butcher Boys. The gallery also hosts temporary exhibitions by some of the country’s top artists, and occasional international artists too. It’s only R30 to enter (concessions are available) and is a great way to spend a few hours and see a huge range of work, from contemporary photography and African beadwork to colonial paintings.
The Natural Beauty
Of course, a trip to the garden isn’t complete without taking a moment to admire some of the flora. The trees are the star attractions: the ginkgo tree with no living relatives; the towering rubber tree; and the ancient saffron pear propped up by steel beams to name a few. There’s an 80-year-old bamboo plantation, with lovers’ initials carved into the trucks. There are also fountains, ponds, and tree lined walkways that shield the garden from the bustle of the city, creating a green, peaceful sanctuary.
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