The Johannesburg Botanical Gardens


The 81-hectare Botanical Garden form one of Johannesburg’s vital green lungs. The land for the gardens was set aside in 1969 – at the time it was a sports field and golf driving range consisting of bare veld and no trees. Now it consists of large, grassy, open spaces scattered with trees and used by runners, picnickers and dog walkers. It hosts the occasional concert season and kite-flying competitions. Visitors enjoy its special gardens – the Shakespeare Garden, the Rose Garden, the Herb Garden, a Hedge Demonstration Garden and the main arboretum, which houses family groupings of plants and trees of South Africa and the rest of the world.

The gardens contain an attractive mix of bunched indigenous and exotics surrounded by lawns, overlooking the 7,5-hectare Emmarentia Dam, which dates back to the turn of the century, popular with canoeists and boaters. There is also a tea pergola and a floreum for meetings, shows and exhibitions. The dam is fed by two smaller dams above it, which are home to many aquatic birds.

The park is fenced and gates at all the entrances are staffed by security guards.

History of the Johannesburg Botanical Garden

Despite intermittent pleas dating from the 1920s, for about 50 years Johannesburg remained one of the few important cities in the world without a botanical garden.

Then, on 19 November 1968, a report by the director of the parks and recreation department was submitted to the management committee of the Johannesburg city council on the feasibility of establishing of a botanical garden. In response, the management committee resolved that "a botanic garden be established at Jan van Riebeeck Park and that the parks and recreation department continue with the development of a botanic garden as indicated in the report".

The total area of land for development was 81 hectares; Joburg got its garden, even though the 19th century enthusiasm for botanical gardens had waned.

The garden's master plan gives a broad outline of the botanical layout. In all, 42 families of plants are incorporated into the design based on suitable sites for the majority of species within the families. The families, comprising South African and exotic species of trees, are the framework around which shrubs and perennials are added to complete both the aesthetic and botanical picture.

Ten-year planting plans have been drawn up for two large sections of the garden and work on the development of these areas continues on a yearly basis. Natural spaces have been retained in the garden, including swamps that are part of the perennial stream which runs through the garden, and natural areas of climax grass and forbs.

By 2009, apart from the area east of the southern lakes which has been left under natural veld grass and bog, and the Rose Garden, the whole area was contoured to existing levels, grassed with kikuyu and half of the pathways paved. The pathways are so designed that all parts of the garden can be visited without the need to backtrack. Visitors are also able to take shorter or longer routes. A map, on which the various walks and all the major attractions in the garden are shown, is available from the offices in the garden.

At present, the plants in the Rose Garden, the Herb Garden and the Hedge Garden demonstration section are labelled. Unfortunately, like all botanical gardens worldwide, labels at the Johannesburg garden are vandalised.

In addition, there are three parking areas. The main one has a unique design, in that the whole area was excavated and the soil was used to create a berm so that it is concealed from view from within and outside the garden. The approach road to the car park runs along the shore of Emmarentia Dam, enabling a peaceful view of the dam even before entering the garden.

An extensive water reticulations system has been installed, serviced by a reservoir holding 1 250 000 litres of water. Two productive boreholes were sunk, as well as a submersible pump in one of the southern dams, which provide the water for the reservoir.

With the completion of the basic engineering operations, extensive planting was undertaken. A Podocarpus forest – of evergreen trees and shrubs – with representatives from around the world is growing apace. It is sheltered by pine nurse trees at present, but these will eventually be removed. There is a large collection of palms along the western boundary of the garden next to the nursery in Thomas Bowler Road.

Further south along the same road is an interesting collection of acacias, the South African ones of which were donated by Denzil Carr, an acknowledged expert in the South African representatives of this genus. To date, over 56 000 trees have been planted, a good proportion of which serve as nurse trees protecting the more desirable plants from wind, frost, the baking sun and designations.

Its trees include ones that have been grown from seed through the garden's global exchange with other botanical institutions. Some 3 000 packets of seeds are exchanged each year, many of which are rare and endangered, thus perhaps being preserved from extinction, far from their native habitat.

The aim is to create and maintain a fundamental role as a regional centre of excellence in plant science and garden curatorship while providing facilities, knowledge and expertise necessary to ensure the conservation, appreciation, enjoyment and sustained use of the Johannesburg Botanical Garden, and so enhancing the quality of life for all.

History of Emmarentia Dam

The land on which the garden is situated was once part of the farm Braamfontein, which dated back to 1853. In 1886, a farmer called Louw Geldenhuys bought a portion of Braamfontein Farm and named it after Emmarentia, the woman he married in 1887.

At the end of the Anglo Boer War, in 1902, many landless farmers returned home, and Geldenhuys offered them employment to build the 7,5ha Emmarentia Dam. Great blocks of stone were brought down from the nearby Melville Koppies, which were then fitted together to construct the dam wall. It banks up water to the depth of 20 metres at the centre of the dam. The wall was built almost perpendicular and has been equal to any flood.

Those men who worked well on the dam wall were chosen to join a farm-sharing experiment Geldenhuys had initiated on his farm.

Emmarentia Dam is fed by the Westdene Spruit, the catchment of which stretches to the suburb of Westdene, to the south of the dam. In earlier times, a furrow from the stream beside the Parkview Golf Course also led water to the dam. Today this furrow no longer exists but the storm water drains from the surrounding roads also feed the dam.

The dam and an area of land to the west of it formed an endowment from Geldenhuys to the city council for park and garden purposes. In 1952, the area was named Jan van Riebeeck Park in celebration of the tri-centenary of Van Riebeeck's historic landing at the Cape. Then, in 1969, a resolution was passed for the building of the Johannesburg Botanical Garden on this land.



The Chapel Garden

Designed to accommodate weddings from all cultures, the Chapel Garden is also the most affordable wedding venue in Johannesburg.
The garden often accommodates over 80 bridal parties on a weekend. It contains indigenous trees and flowers, and has benches, footpaths and an altar. It complements the Sima Eliovson Floreum, where receptions can be held, and the Rose Garden, a picturesque venue for photographs.
Designed to accommodate weddings from all cultures, the Chapel Garden is also the most affordable wedding venue in Johannesburg.

At the launch of the Chapel Garden in October 2007, people were asked to consider the environment when planning their weddings, as an environmentally friendly ceremony can contribute to the fight against global warming.

The Johannesburg Botanic Gardens is home to some of the finest plant collections in the world, including succulents, indigenous and exotic trees. Its Rose Garden has more than 4 500 different hybrids of roses, while the Herb Garden contains a collection of culinary, cosmetic and medicinal herbs.

The Shakespeare Garden

The Shakespeare Garden is planted with herbs referred to by Shakespeare in his plays, including mint, camomile, marjoram and lavender. Each plant is labelled, and includes the quote referring to the particular plant. Each year a Shakespeare festival comprising song, music and comedy is held in the garden to celebrate his birthday. The audience sits on a circular amphitheatre in very pleasant surroundings.

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden was laid out by curator Patric Chambers in 1964 and is planted with 10 000 roses in seven sloping terraces. It is based on a Renaissance/Baroque garden, and every year an old bed is cleared and planted with the newest roses on the market. This garden is surrounded by Japanese flowering cherries, and together with the roses, it makes a breathtaking setting in spring. Wedding parties often take advantage of this splendour for their photograph albums.

The Herb Garden

The Herb Garden contains the usual herbs but also a section devoted to African medicinal herbs, as well as culinary herbs, cosmetic herbs, oil-yielding herbs and herbs used for the production of dyes.

Hedge Garden

An interesting hedge garden consists of 58 different types of hedges, demonstrating those that require trimming and those growing in free form.


The main arboretum has a mix of Californian Redwoods, English oaks, silver birches and cork oaks from Spain and Portugal.

Succulent Garden

Experience the desert at the Botanical Garden, where a garden for succulents was opened in 2006 by City Parks MD Luther Williamson. It is designed to look like a desert with a dry river bed and using silica sand.

There are more than 85 species of succulent plants in the garden, which was developed “100 percent internally” by City Parks employees, according to Shonisani Munzhedzi, the General Manager of Environment Conservation Development.
The garden contains examples from the aloe, euphorbia, emblem, sansevieria and, even, the cactus family, including South Africa’s only indigenous cactus.

The succulent collection at the Johannesburg Botanical Garden consists of South African succulents as well as plants from Namibia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, the Canary Islands, Europe, Asia and the Americas. The succulents are housed in six glasshouses - pots and pots and pots of beautiful, bulbous plants. Viewing by appointment only. Contact (011) 782-0517.