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​Pride from abroad



Dec 9, 2022 | Written & photographs by Antonia de Barros, General Manager: BotSoc



 Above: The Waterlily House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Photo by Antonia de Barros


I had the privilege of travelling to the United Kingdom and to Portugal in October 2022 and many botanical gardens in Europe, America and South Africa over nearly 25 years. But on this trip I truly felt the sense of pride about our incredible floral heritage.


Above: The Waterlily House at Kew Gardens. Photo by Antonia de Barros


Proudly South African at Kew, London, United Kingdom

It was only when I made my first visit ever to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew that I truly felt the sense of pride sink in. As a horticulturist, walking through the Temperate House and the Waterlily House at Kew was phenomenal seeing South African plants on display. I saw the wonder amongst visitors as they marvelled at the South African species in the glasshouses. And the interpretative signage was wonderful. This really showed me the splendour of our diverse South African plant world through the eyes of others.


Above: Temperate House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Photos by Antonia de Barros


It was truly impressive to see the dedication, extensive research and diligence that it takes to grow and maintain South African plants in these collections under very different climatic conditions to ours. The effort that the Kew team has made, to tell the South African plant conservation story is fantastic! The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew is well resourced and has the infrastructure that many botanical garden management teams could only dream of.

While the Waterlily House has now closed for winter, I was lucky enough to visit before it closed. The circular pond spans more than 10 metres in diameter, showcasing the giant Amazon waterlily (Victoria amazonica). This glasshouse was completed in 1852.


Above: Palm House at Kew Gardens. Photo by Antonia de Barros


The Palm House was completed in 1848 and houses palms and other tropical and subtropical plants, many of which are endangered or extinct in the wild. The infrastructure in the botanic garden is monumental!

The garden shop offers a wide range of exciting take-home ideas and goodies to sharpen your green fingers at home and fill your pantry with exciting alternative ingredients to add to culinary adventures. This was an absolute thrill for me as an avid gardener and cook!


Above: Pond between the Palm House and Brasserie at Kew Gardens. Photo by Antonia de Barros


There is great potential for the Botanical Society of South Africa to collaborate with the Royal Horticultural Society and many other plant-focused societies to develop working relationships with each other and botanical gardens. We look forward to exploring that in innovative and alternative ways.


SA magic in Madeira, Portugal

Following my pilgrimage to Kew I journeyed on to the magical floral islands of Madeira later in October. Here I experienced a botanical explosion of colour and a celebration of South African cut flowers and landscape displays on the four Portuguese islands off the northwest coast of Africa, north of Morocco.


Top left: Nuns Valley offers spectacular walks. Top right: Strelitzia and other South African species are for sale and in every garden. Photo by Antonia de Barros


Nowhere in South Africa have I experienced such pride in our Protea species, Strelitzias and Agapanthus which are promoted at every Madeiran market, hotel display and domestic and public gardens. They’re even at the Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport departure hall!

The island’s tourism marketing strategy includes South African flora front and centre. It is as popular as Espatada, beef and bay leaf kebab, and the local drink, Poncha.

We can’t wait to get back there!


Above: South African plants are a hit at Madeiran markets. Photo by Antonia de Barros


I visited the Botanical Garden of Madeira, in Funchal which is a must-see: 5 ha of displays including more than 3 000 species from across the world with the most spectacular views from the cable car. This garden also hosts an herbarium and seed bank and plays an active role in conservation.

Another important botanical garden stop is the Monte Palace Madeira, which includes various themed gardens and a museum, a Zimbabwean sculpture display and a mineral display, ‘Mother Nature’s Secrets’ including South African specimens, and much more.


Above: This trip truly was a botanical adventure at every turn. Photo by Antonia de Barros

For the more adventurous nature lovers, there are walking trails along the Levadas which form part of channels or aqueducts, many in the mountains and forests, that provide water to remote areas. Madeira is a magical place, a floral home, a paradise away from home. I can’t wait to go back and explore it in greater depth.


Lessons along the way

The trip served as an important reminder: Despite our challenges, we should look at South Africa in appreciation and with pride, and celebrate our beautiful country, plants, animals and ecosystems. And we need to do everything we can as a society to protect it!

1 Comment

  1. Awesome Tony, thank you for sharing. As I read through your comments of your visit from each Botanical it felt like I was walking right next to you. Indeed we must conserve our Biodiversity and manage it with pride.

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