A beautiful time to visit my favorite garden country—South Africa! [II]
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 12, 2017

Above, the Blue Train in the Worcester station (you may be able to make out the station sign in yellow hanging from the ceiling); just after we boarded we went around a curve which enabled me to get this shot of almost the entire train; just one colourful section of the Karoo Garden; a group of Leucospermum tottom in the Karoo Garden; and the City of Durban (note the red roofed, orange brick building in the centre of the picture, slightly to the left—it is the old railway station that has been converted into a huge new shopping mall which we visited) Below, one of the hotels we stayed in at “The Rocks”; a group of Viresea growing in a private nursery (one of their natives that we can actually grow here indoors); a planting of Cynthia Giddy’s red pencil cactus; Many cactus lovers grow Living Stones here in Canada; a shot of Cynthia’s propagation of Cycads; and the oldest Welwitschia growing in the Namib desert. Author photos.




In my last column I ended by telling you about South African Railways famous Blue Train, which we boarded not in Cape Town but in the little town of Worcester, just a half hour out of Cape Town. It is the home of the Karoo (Desert) National Botanic Garden. I have included two more photos of the train with this week’s item.

It is not a large garden and it features only native sun-loving plants, especially cacti and similar types. The mere fact that it is in a very sunny area should tell you that it is very hot at mid-day. The gardens are very exposed so if you are not very good in the sun or heat go early! It opens at 7.30 am when it is still nice and cool. The gardens are also nice and empty at this time.

It was (South African) spring when we visited so there were a large number of flowers and shrubs in full bloom. The plants are well labelled so you know what you are looking at. The gar-den is not huge so you can easily have a look around in 1-2 hrs, although if you wanted to stay longer there are plenty of trails to take within the gardens.

South Africa has more native plants than any other country and many of them are on display in such gardens as Kirstenbosch and this Karoo Garden. I have included one shot of a Leucospermum tottom in addition to one general view of the garden. The Leucospermum are just about as plenteous in the country as are the various Protea, shown in the last item.

In my four trips to South Africa, I have likely spent as much time in the coastal City of Durban as any other In 1976 I made it my headquarters since my good friend Tom Linley was (at that time) the director of the Durban parks and recreation department. Their botanical garden was and is a must-see, particularly the orchid enclosure.

Tom is retired now (for many years) but I still have a number of friends in the department whom I hear from occasionally.

Durban is the largest container port in South Africa and has a huge (continental) Indian population. It also has 25 k (16 miles) of lovely publicly-owned beach front (with no condos along the beach side). There all kinds of recreational activities open to everyone on the beach!

If you are travelling to South Africa do not miss Durban and definitely see the botanic garden. If you have time you should also visit the old city of Pietermaritzburg which is not a long drive from Durban.

We went to Pietermaritzburg to see the garden and nursery of Cynthia Giddy who wrote a book on the topic of Cycads (mostly Encephalartos), but I came away impressed with some of the other plants she was growing.

She is the one who found the orange/red coloured pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli). I was so impressed with it that she gave me an unrooted cutting to take home which I smuggled back in a shoe in my luggage. We managed to grow it for a couple of years, but it did not tolerate the drywall dust and when we had the major renovations done to our Nesbitt Drive home in Toronto, it died. What a terrible shame.

The plant is now generally available from good indoor plant growers, and we have bought a small one that is growing here.

Cynthia also had some small plants of Welwitschia which are very rare, and in our 1986 trip to South Africa we also went into the adjoining country Namibia in search of the original Welwitschia growing in the middle of the desert. We found it all right (not without some of what I call adventure) and I shall write about that story here at some point in the future. I’ll include some of my photos of the largest Welwitschia in the World, even though I have included one here.



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