Documents: Latest From: Art Drysdale:

A beautiful time to visit my favourite garden country—South Africa
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

November 5, 2017

Above, all seven photos taken at Brenthurst, the Oppenheimer estate, in this order: the back lawn showing the many Jacaranda in full bloom; the front entrance; their huge Bougainvillea also at the back; the nicely designed rose garden; two of the many sculptures on the grounds; one of the lady’s favourite dogs playing; and a typical scene which includes a Jacaranda. Below, typical bedding plants in the main garden at Kirstenbosch; a close-up of the giant or King Protea (Protea cynaroides); the shrub Aloe ferrox; Protea aristata; the country’s famous Blue Train on a curve an hour out of Worcester; the ‘ready to serve’ dining car; and the Lord Milner hotel, along the route. Author photos.




The ‘leader’ of, Donna Dawson and her husband Tom are currently on one of her famous trips—this one to South Africa.

South Africa is my favourite country; it is literally a country in a garden and has more plants that are native there than any other country in the world. I have visited there four times: first in 1976 by myself to plan for a group tour I as organizing for the following year. It was a group of parks managers mainly from Canada but we also had two Americans.

Our 1977 tour lasted a month and included a great deal of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania—including famous gardens as well as animal viewing.

In 1986 Yves and I went again courtesy of the South African Tourist Board. The photos I have included with this article are all from 1986. And then in 1991 he and I took another small group of folks (we filled a Volks bus!).

But let me concentrate here on the 1986 trip which was just the two of us. That trip started with a major mix-up between the tourist board in South Africa and their office in Toronto. By the second day they managed to get their act together and we were off to visit a series of magnificent gardens including Brenthurst the estate of the Oppenheimer family, of diamond fame. We were to have met with Strilli Oppenheimer but she had a doctor appointment that day and when she arrived home (in her Mercedes-Benz SL) she did not feel like walking the entire estate. So, we ended up going around with the head gardener.

Unlike many other visitors I was allowed to take as many photos as I wished and I did take more than one roll of 36—some of which are shown on this page!

The Jacaranda trees were in full bloom all over town (including in this garden) and the part of the garden toward the back which was backed up by the blue-flowering Jacaranda was my absolute favourite. Although the plantings leading up to the front door were also pretty spectacular!

The huge Bougainvillea was very impressive and although the rose garden was not large, it too was well done and had a good number of bushes flowering.

Strilli Oppenheimer’s love of the arts did not just show in the house but also in the garden here; there were numerous original sculptures, and as with most homes--dogs!

I used to say to my tour participants that it is not the best way to do a tour, i.e. viewing the highlight first! But there were plenty more highlights to come. From Johannesburg and nearby Pretoria we took several short flights and drove a rental car to Cape Town. It is the site of the world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the curator/superintendent of which was a good friend of mine Jack Marais. He came to Kirstenbosch in 1960 (the garden itself was only started in 1913). His main contribution was to rid the entire garden (over 500 hectares) of non-native or exotic plants. This was a huge task! But he accomplished it, and in touring me around the first time I visited it was obvious he was extremely proud of what he had accomplished.

Our group of parks executives (which included T.W. [Tommy] Thompson then the parks commissioner for Metropolitan Toronto, and George W. Dalby the superintendent of The Niagara Parks Commission who was in charge of all 35 miles of parkland on the Canadian side at Niagara Falls) had not been in Africa before. They were all most impressed with what we saw and the people to whom we spoke.

Kirstenbosch devotes its attention to the natural flora of the Lowveld of the Eastern Transvaal (province) at elevations below 1,000 metres. For plants growing in one of the other (of many) climate areas that make up South Africa, the people at Kirstenbosch decided to develop a series of regional satellite gardens.

There are now seven of these including one that I have visited--the Lowveld Botanic Garden in a little city called Nelspruit, which is a centre of commercial fruit growing. One of the features here is a River Walk, where visitors can move among natural vegetation, and watch baboons playing. Barberton daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) are brilliant splashes of coral red and the fern garden is a cool haven on a hot summer day. Gerbera, of course, is one of the many native plants of South Africa!

In 1977 when I had my group of parks executives with me I had told my people to wear comfortable shoes because Kirstenbosch was a huge garden and it had no public transport to take groups around. But I as wrong! When we arrived in the parking lot with our mini-bus, there was Jack Marais aboard a small bus belonging to Kirstenbosch. So we were all pleased to be able to tour around the garden in our own transport with the Curator of the garden pointing out all the attractions, and in many cases the history behind them. And that caused all of the other guests to wonder just who we were!

It was without question that as travelled around the garden the Protea trees/shrubs were the highlight, at least to me. There were just so many of them, some with only minor variations from another. That is not to say that many of the Dorotheanthus, Leucadendron, Erica, Dais, and Aloe were not of equal interest.

While we were in the Cape Town area we made visits to numerous other tourist venues, such as Table Mountain (which we climbed via the cable car!), the relatively nearby Karoo Garden at Worcester (the hottest place I have ever been, I think).

From Worcester we took the famous Blue Train which goes overnight from mid-afternoon in Cape Town to the next morning arriving in Johannesburg followed by Pretoria. It is super luxurious and everything is simply the best! One of the great sights is the village of Matjiesfontein, where the rail line passes directly in front of the Lord Milner hotel. The train even slows down allowing passengers to get a good photo if they so desire.

I shall have plenty more to tell you about South Africa, probably next week. I hope Donna’s group is enjoying South Africa as much as I have in past years


  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row