Celebrate the first ever SANBI Spring Festival
at the Free State National Botanical Garden

Great news for gardeners, fans of all things floral, nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, families looking for a wonderful day out, and everyone celebrating the arrival of warmer weather, is that the inaugural SANBI Spring Festival is currently taking place across South Africa.

Running until the end of October, the SANBI Spring Festival has been launched to showcase, and draw visitors to, the network of exceptional National Botanical and Zoological Gardens that exist across the country, and which are managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). 

Free State National Botanical Garden

For residents of Bloemfontein and surrounds, the Free State National Botanical Garden, situated on the outskirts of the city, is a must-visit to celebrate SANBI’s Spring Festival!  The Garden covers 70 hectares spanning a valley between picturesque dolerite koppies and is home to about 400 species of plants, mainly from the Free State, Northern Cape and Lesotho. It also includes a collection of decorative and hardy trees indigenous to the area.

A series of vistas lead through the Garden to the wooded koppies, up on to the rocky outcrops, which overlook the Garden, and back down to the dam, the bird hide and the lawns.  This is a true wildlife haven on the edge of the city – with over 144 bird species, 54 reptile species and about 32 mammal species.

Visit the Zizi Restaurant to enjoy delicious food with a stunning view of the Botanical Garden. Children can play in the play area in front of the restaurant while you relax with a sundowner.  Alternatively you can pack a picnic or make use of the braai facilities on offer.  Visitors can also do a guided garden tour which takes visitors to see the water-wise garden, the medicinal garden, the succulent garden, the Garden of Hope, and the fragrance garden – to name a few.  Don’t forget to visit the magnificent Wild Olive tree that is thought to be over 200 years old.  Also to be seen is a fossil tree trunk, which is estimated to be 150-300 million years old.

A glimpse back in time
The Free State National Botanical Garden dates back to 1965. During the 1963 Kirstenbosch Jubilee Year Tour it was decided that the Free State warranted a botanical garden for the cultivation and display of the varied flora of the province. Several sites were investigated in the city centre, on the slopes of Naval Hill, part of the farm Brandkop and the farm Winter Valley, about 10 km from the main post office. The last-named site was the most suitable and it was purchased in 1965 by the Bloemfontein city, which transferred control to the Trustees of the National Botanical Gardens.

The site where the Garden stands was once inhabited by Iron Age Basotho dwellers and remains of their pottery are displayed in the Education Centre. South African wars have left their mark on this site too – British troops were stationed in the vicinity during the South African War and the dam, which was builtto hold water for their horses, and the stone wall can be admired to this day. Half a century later, the curator’s house was built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II. It was thought to have been used as a hospital for the prisoners of war.

“In spring, carpets of mauve coloured flowers form patches of vivid colour on the koppies and, with the rising temperatures, trees break out in their new soft green foliage. Acacia Karoo with its bright golden flowers and Grewia occidentalis with its star-shaped mauve flowers add yet more colour to the landscape. In early summer, lobelias, helichrysums, homerias and moraeas are all in bloom, as well as Rhigozum obovatum with its spectacular butter-yellow flowers. This is one of the most colourful seasons,” says Lufuno Nenungwi, Acting Curator for the Free State National Botanical Garden.  “Visitors must also keep their eyes peeled for animals such as hares, yellow mongoose, dassies, tortoises, snakes and a massive diversity of birds.”

13 Gardens in SA
Many people may not realise that South Africa has 10 National Botanical Gardens and a National Zoological Garden – stretching across eight of the country’s provinces – which showcase, and protect, our richly diverse landscapes and biodiversity. In addition, SANBI also manages the Thohoyandou Botanical Garden and Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre in the Limpopo Province.

SANBI is calling on the South African public to take part in the first ever Spring Festival by visiting their nearest Botanical Garden.

SANBI wish to draw South Africans from all walks of life into the Botanical Gardens to revel in, and celebrate, the beauty of our diverse landscapes and floral regions. Young and old alike will love a day out at a SANBI Botanical Garden – most of which are urban oases in the heart of suburban developments. 

And there truly is something to do for everyone; whether it is a gentle stroll through the gardens while the kids play on the lawns, followed by a delicious meal at the restaurants situated in many of the gardens, or perhaps it is a hike to the waterfalls and pools, a guided tour, bird watching and some eco-therapy – the list is seemingly endless as to what visitors can expect at the SANBI Botanical Gardens.

The network of SANBI National Botanical and Zoological Gardens includes:

  1. KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden
  2. Free State National Botanical Garden
  3. Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
  4. Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden
  5. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
  6. Pretoria National Botanical Garden
  7. Lowveld National Botanical Garden
  8. Pretoria National Zoological Garden
  9. Thohoyandou Botanical Garden
  10. Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
  11. Hantam National Botanical Garden 
  12. Kwelera National Botanical Garden
  13. Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre

*All of the SANBI Botanical Gardens have a variety of offerings for the public to enjoy during the Spring Festival and more details on each can be found in the links above.

Celebrate Garden Day at a Botanical Garden
The SANBI Spring Festival also happens to coincide with National Garden Day, a much-loved annual event that takes place on 11 October and which calls on South Africans to celebrate their gardens – regardless of the size or format.  A wonderful way to mark Garden Day 2020 is with a visit to your nearest SANBI Botanical or Zoological Garden.

For more information on the SANBI Spring Festival and the Free State National Botanical Garden visit  www.sanbi.org/gardens/free-state.  You can also follow the hashtag #SANBISpringFestival on Facebook; Twitter; and Instagram.