18 October, 2016

Peers Cave and Kirstenbosch

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

Peers Cave

When we first walked at our new urban edge in False Bay, we were surprised to cross a tall dune to find a green oasis. There is another street and about three rows of houses between us and The Edge. Suburbia borders pure nature, nothing but footprints.

Walking to Peers Cave

From our bay window we see Peers Hill and the archaeological site of Peers Cave. Stone age relics. Back in June the path was still closed after February's fire to protect the steep slope from erosion by hikers. We battled to find an approved way up, and having reached the top ... we floundered around in search of the cave. Adding to the mystic atmosphere we found a woman and her young acolyte at the peak, deep in prayer and singing hymns.

Peers Cave

Contemporary charcoal drawings show that the cave is still used meaningfully today with Khoi Khonnacion graffiti.

Khoi Khoi

In Peers Cave

Contemporary charcoal drawings in Peers Cave

Across the valley is Elsie's Peak. Behind us is the Silvermine section of Table Mountain National Park (West and East hikes). We walked home across a landscape that weirdly feels created for a film set.

Heading home from Peers Cave


Kirstenbosch courtyard houses a 'klein aber fein' bonsai collection. Still shocked by the idea of a bonsai wild olive tree one hundred and fifty years old! Oliver.

150 year old wild olive bonsai

Colonel Bird's bath is bordered with clinker bricks, used as ballast on Dutch East India ships. Spring water bubbles up from the mountain slope. The reasons why Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden was founded here, is water, good soil, and Cecil John Rhodes had left his land to the nation in 1902. Our flagship garden was born on 1 July 1913.

Colonel Bird's bath

Oak trees were planted to provide acorns for the previous pig farm. They drop their leaves all at once. That dense mat obstructs our indigenous bulbs and annuals. We went on two guided walks, first pollinators, then wetlands. Our streams form in dark rocky clefts, no light to support algae, so creatures feed on fallen leaves. Fynbos sheds its leaves all year round. The oak doesn't suit our creatures. Fynbos leaves contain tannin to deter browsers, which makes the water a deep peaty brown. (I remember the city nieces refusing to bath in the country nieces brown bath water, decades ago)

Oak leaves

One of these August flowers speaks a foreign language. Bottom left red waratah is from Australia. A misfit in our indigenous Kirstenbosch, but with a centenarian's pedigree. When Kirstenbosch was founded Kew sent us a bag of seeds. Only two of those first plants survive. This waratah Telopea speciosissima  - I have never seen in bloom before. And the Mount Atlas cedar tree on Pearson's grave, which Kew sourced from La Mortola (now managed by the University of Genoa). In 1904 'the finest private garden in the world'. In front of Castle Rock is a yellow rocket pincushion. A commonorgarden Strelitzia (not pollinated naturally because it comes from the eastern side of our country and that bird isn't here). Marsh rose is a rare and unusual protea.

August flowers at Kirstenbosch

PS the exotic arboretum trees at Kirstenbosch are living out their natural span, then being replaced with indigenous trees.

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Pictures by Jurg and Diana Studer
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  1. I remember visiting Colonel Bird's bath several years ago -- such a beautiful spot in Kirstenbosch.

    1. Something very pleasing about that shape - and I only learned about the bricks on this walk.

  2. Suburbia in your part of the world is very different from ours, Diana. It must be wonderful to have natural places like your Peers Cave so close. I'm always astounded by the old bonsai trees - it makes me wish I'd invested in that hobby as a child so I could see the fruits of my labor in my old age.

    1. Along the Peninsula there is a lot of urban edge. But also some not so 'leafy' suburbs.

      I have a nice collection of bonsai pots ... time to put some trees in them!

  3. I love the way you describe Strelitzia as commonorgarden. It's the most exotic thing I (try to) grow! How wonderful to see it in the wild.

    1. I am watching a developing bud on our Strelitzia nicolai - which grows HUGE and has to be trimmed back periodically.

  4. Interesting post as always ...amazed at the 150 year old Olive Tree Bonsai ..we have oak trees in our street & I have noticed how long the leaves take to break down ...& what a magnificent Protea!

  5. So fascinating! The landscape looks so exotic to me. The ancient bonsai is so amazing!

  6. What a beautiful view and a great resource so close to your home! Your wildflowers are so colorful. Whenever I see Strelitzias, I'm shocked that they are actually real plants. Even though they aren't native to S. California, they're very common in landscapes in that part of the U.S. I learned recently from my aunt that my grandmother was very keen on them.

    1. I have that link to my grandmother thru the fragrance of freesias.

  7. I'm so pleased that you managed to find your way to the cave and take those wonderful photos. This post has left me wanting to see all this for myself! One day maybe...

  8. You have so many beautiful places to visit near your False Bay home. Thanks for taking us along. -Jean

  9. It's good to see exotics being replaced by natives. Oh, and let's hope the Khoisan receive the recognition they crave. P.x