Way back in 1652 the Dutch East India Company started creating a vegetable garden for the benefit of the local community. Today the areas where the vegetable garden once stood is now known as Company’s Garden located at the top end of Alderley Street in Cape Town. The park and all its splendour still exists today and is a popular tourist attraction. Visitors have been able to walk around the public section of the gardens since 1848 and today you can take a tour by yourself with the assistance of a brochure that you can buy at the Visitor Centre. Using the guide and the strategically placed markers dotted around in the paving you can learn all about the history of the gardens.
The gardens are surrounded by a number of historically important buildings such as the current Houses of Parliament, the South Africa National Gallery, the Planetarium and the National Library of South Africa.
It is certainly a relaxing way to spend the afternoon wandering around the gardens admiring the flower beds, water features and historical statues. The gardens are also home to the oldest cultivated saffron tree in South Africa which is believed to be over 360 years old. The tree still bears fruit today but to ensure this tree is not forgotten cuttings have been taken recently from the tree which are now growing. Other large trees to look out for are the large Aloe Trees and the Oak trees that line the walkways like a road in the south of France.
At the centre of Company’s Garden there is a tearoom style restaurant with the an aviary next to it. Although this was renovated recently the exterior of the aviary was kept intact to preserve this piece of history for future visitors. The tearoom is open from 09h00 to 17h00 Monday to Saturday and serves a selection of light meals – anything from burgers to toasted sandwiches washed down with a milkshake. Recently the Cape Town Partnership got Connected Space to provide free WiFi to visitors inside the restaurant and outside by the aviary – just part of an on-going programme in the city to make the most use of its public spaces.
Open from 07h00 to 19h00 every day in the summer and until 18h00 in the winter the gardens are an ideal place for a family afternoon out. The younger ones will adore the rather friendly squirrels which if you buy a R5 packet of nuts will be your friend for as long as the bag lasts. The pigeons are equally as friendly and if you sit down they will quite happily come and land on your shoulder or arm.
Perhaps inspired by the library close by you should consider bringing along a good book and a picnic blanket and lying on the grass engrossed in the latest thriller. If you have come along with children who need amusing why not head off to the Iziko South African Museum where they can enjoy looking at the old fossils and exhibits which most children never tire of seeing.
Discovering hidden gems like Company’s Garden in Cape Town is what exploring new cities is all about. It might not be as big as the likes of Central Park in New York or Hyde Park in London but this is a beautiful and well maintained set of gardens and you should include it on your itinerary when you next visit Cape Town. Like all good public spaces should be it is free to get into Company’s Gardens.