Article and photos by Zoë Poulsen
Last week the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society held their much anticipated plant fair, loved by all and one of the biggest events in the BotSoc calendar. More than 11,000 indigenous plants went on sale with horticultural advice from experts from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens, CapeNature, the SANBI/BotSoc volunteer programme and more. Around 3,200 members of Cape Town’s plant community arrived for this popular event, with 90% of stock selling out on the first day. By Sunday more than 10,000 plants had been sold including 1730 Proteaceae and 650 Ericaceae plants. A total of 260 BotSoc members volunteered to make the plant fair happen. For the Kirstenbosch Branch volunteers, committee and staff involved, we offer a huge thank-you for your time, hard work and effort, it couldn’t be done without you!
In addition to this botanical bonanza, the event also served as an expo for various organisations. Experts from the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) were there to introduce would-be citizen scientists to their work, explaining how anyone can contribute to threatened species conservation. The Calitzdorp Succulent Society answered questions about their annual festival and Soil for Life were raising awareness with some lovely winter vegetable seedlings on sale. The Candide SA team were also ready to answer questions about their incredible horticultural app designed to share knowledge through an online gardening community. I am sure all who visited their stand will look forward to growing their free kohlrabi seeds.
This year’s theme was ‘Amazing Aromatics’, celebrating the many South African plants that enrich our natural vegetation and our gardens by smelling as good as they look. The most well-known of these are the Buchus from the Rutaceae or Citrus family that form an integral part of South Africa’s fynbos. Agathosma crenulata and Agathosma betulina have many traditional medicinal uses. The leaves can be used to make a tea or steeped in vinegar or brandy and have been used in the treatment of stomach complaints, kidney and bladder ailments. They make great garden plants too. Members of the genus Pelargonium were also on sale. Different species of this tough and drought tolerant genus may smell of lemon, mint and rose. Many have edible flowers and leaves and can be used as a food flavouring or in potpourri. Branch volunteers had a stall at the fair dedicated to selling handmade potpourri, further demonstrating the versatility of our indigenous flora.
The Kirstenbosch Plant Fair has always acted as a one-stop-shop for enthusiasts of growing South Africa’s extraordinary and biodiverse flora, paired with expert advice accessible to everyone from beginner to the most knowledgeable of gardeners. When gardening in the water scarce Western Cape it makes complete sense to grow indigenous drought tolerant plants adapted to our climate and soils in a world class range of sizes, colours, shapes and scents. With expanding urban development and agriculture, our gardens become all the more important as havens for wildlife. Those Red Hot Pokers, Aloes and Cape Honeysuckle sold at the plant fair will grow to provide food for spectacular sunbirds, always wonderful guests to have visiting. Threatened species such as the Extinct in the Wild Erica verticillata may also find a corner in your garden within its former range.
As well as raising funds for the Kirstenbosch Branch, the Plant Fair also encourages a sense of community among a wide spectrum of people. It inspires people to plant, garden and enjoy nature in any green space, no matter how large or small. Whether you have a tiny balcony, access to a patch of sand or a larger space, it can become a garden. Those who volunteer their time at the Kirstenbosch Plant Fair play a vital role in encouraging others to start greening their own spaces for nature. The satisfaction from planting and growing brings joy and a wonderful social space to enrich the lives of all who get involved. Everyone brings home good memories, and look forward to doing it all again for the plant fair next year.