[Kirstenbosch] [Karoo Desert] [Harold Porter] [Free State] [Natal] [Lowveld] [Witwatersrand] [Pretoria]
The eight National Botanical Gardens (NBGs) administered by the National Botanical Institute continued to experience increases in local and foreign visitors, with over 1 million visitors passing through the Gardens during the year. In particular, visitor numbers at the Pretoria (68 475 visitors per annum), Witwatersrand (135 877), Free State (29 368) and Harold Porter (54 772) NBGs showed very good growth. The position of both Kirstenbosch and Witwatersrand NBGs as premier tourist destinations was entrenched when both received major tourism awards during the year.
Marketing, the sourcing of sponsorships and the hosting of events (particularly concerts) in the Gardens are becoming increasingly important in generating income, providing exposure to the Gardens and activities of the NBI, as well as attracting increased numbers of visitors from a broad cross-section of South African society.
Over the past two years, the NBI has turned its focus to developing visitor facilities and services at the northern Gardens: Pretoria, Witwatersrand and Lowveld NBGs. This shift in emphasis has had positive results with the completion of a new Visitors' Centre and Environmental Education Centre at the Pretoria NBG, the announcement of funding for new visitor and education facilities at the Lowveld NBG and the upgrade of the entrance area and tea garden facilities at the Witwatersrand NBG.
New displays and visitor attractions created in the other Gardens during the year include a Secret Garden at the Natal NBG, the start of a grassland display at the Free State NBG and a Dune Walk at the Harold Porter NBG.
Behind-the-scenes work undertaken at all the Gardens included audits of all the computer equipment in use, the taking of low-level aerial photographs and the inventorying of all plants in cultivation in the gardens, on the Estate and in the index nurseries. For the first time in the Garden Directorate's history, someone dedicated towards co-ordinating information technology matters across the various Gardens was appointed. This appointment will go a long way towards popularizing much of the scientific and technical information present in the various Gardens. Another important activity initiated during the year was the digitization of images within the NBI. This is an ongoing process that will facilitate garden images being preserved and shared across the Institute.
The Directorate continued to play an important role in the support and development of botanical gardens in other parts of southern Africa (through the SABONET Project), as well as to provide advice and assistance to colleagues around Africa in developing an African Botanic Gardens Network.
A more co-ordinated approach to interpretation, following the appointment of a national Interpretation Coordinator, and the relocation of interpretation services to the Gardens Directorate, had an immediate and positive impact. All the Gardens are now offering guided theme walks and they all have a staff member responsible for interpretation.
Innovative horticultural research continues to be done at all the Gardens, with particular success enjoyed in growing and propagating plants usually thought too difficult to grow. Horticultural staff also continued to popularize the growing of indigenous plants by contributing Plant of the Week articles to the NBI website as well as by publishing another book in the Kirstenbosch Gardening Series on growing nerines.
All the Gardens continued to provide opportunities for horticultural students from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain practical experience, as well as to collaborate with other botanical gardens on the continent and overseas.
Interpretation in all eight NBGs is now co-ordinated by an Interpretation Co-ordinator who falls under the Garden and Horticultural Services Directorate.
Following on the recommendations made by the External Review Group in 2000, an interpretation policy and procedure manual was developed and adopted throughout the Gardens. A single theme or slogan was identified for each Garden for interpretation activities to be based upon, and corresponding interpretation plans are being drawn up at all the Gardens. Horticultural staff at the various Gardens with an interest in interpretation were identified and this function was added to their portfolios. At the Lowveld NBG, a full-time interpretation officer was appointed.
A number of in-house interpretation courses were run for these staff, as well as for garden volunteers and guides. A session on interpretation was also presented for the Botanical Gardens Management Course organized by SABONET in November.
Guided walks are an important vehicle for interpretation messages and a number of theme walks were developed and presented in all the Gardens. These walks not only allow for instant feedback, but are also good income generators.
New types of plant labels designed in-house and dubbed 'interprelabels' were tested at the Natal NBG and met with a very positive response from visitors. Temporary signs were successfully used in trial runs at all the Gardens and allowed for the interpretation of seasonal and incidental occurrences. Weekly flower specimen displays were arranged at most of the Gardens and remain effective attention grabbers. The Plant of the Week feature, on both the NBI website and on display in the Kirstenbosch and Witwatersrand NBGs, was well maintained throughout the year.
Projects that received permanent and temporary interpretive storyboards during the year were the Useful Garden and the Secret Garden (Natal NBG), the Medicinal Plants Garden (Pretoria NBG), the Riverside Trail (Lowveld NBG), the Waterwise Garden (Witwatersrand NBG) and the Dune Walk (Harold Porter NBG). In addition, a number of garden brochures and maps were updated.