The NWU Botanical Garden’s history reaches back to 1962, when university botany lecturer Dr. W.J. Louw started a small garden to produce plant material for botany practicals. The garden flourished in the 1970s under its first curator, Bert Ubbink, who developed the layout for the garden’s pathways and the rocky ridge and waterfall. The garden finally opened to the public in 1982.
The three-hectare garden has become a wonderful attraction for the Potchefstroom community, and in recent years (after a period of funding shortages) has experienced a resurgence. The garden has a number of distinct sections: the Swamp garden, the Vlei garden, the formal Indigenous garden, the Invader display, the Evolution garden and Succulent rockery.
Even in winter, when temperatures can reach as low as -10 degrees Celsius in Potchefstroom and morning frost is prevalent, there are beautiful flowers to see in the garden. A grove of red-hot pokers thrives near the entrance and even an arum lily or two is in bloom. The garden is perhaps a bit wilder and more unruly in winter than it is in summer, but there is charm in the wildness. The garden has a lovely bridge over a dam filled with lily pads, and a line of diamond-shaped stepping stones that cross over a smaller pond.
The botanical garden includes more than 1500 plant species, mostly indigenous and some that are rare and endangered, as well as a few exotic species available for study outside and within the greenhouses (open by appointment only). Wander the garden’s paths, listen to the songs of numerous native birds, and find each tree and shrub identified with a neat, white marker. “Curry bush,” one marker declares. “Grows in forest margins, grassland and along streams. Yellow flowers appear from September to April. Leaves have a characteristic curry smell when crushed or after rain.”
The botanical garden’s rocky ridge, which has been developed as a natural veld, is one of the garden’s best features. The path leads upward in several directions, winding between stones and indigenous trees with twisted roots and branches casting long shadows. In winter, when leaves are scarce, there is a 360-view of Potchefstroom from the top. If you get tired (although you probably won’t as the hill isn’t too steep), there are green-painted park benches along the way with QR codes visitors can scan with their phones and listen to a poem.
The botanical garden is also a museum of sorts. The NWU Art Gallery, just up the street in the university’s main campus, operates a small satellite gallery and sculpture park for young and up-and-coming artists on the grounds of the botanical garden. The clearings within the garden are dotted with sculptures, which can pop up and surprise you when rounding a curve in one of the stone paths.
There is no better place in Potchefstroom to wander aimlessly over lunch hour.
The NWU Botanical Garden is on Calderbank Avenue, just north of the university’s main campus. The garden is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in summer and 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in winter. Call 018-299-2753, Entrance to the garden is free.