History of the Natal National Botanical Garden

On the 3rd of March, 1874, the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Garden was founded. It was run by the newly formed Pietermaritzburg Botanical Society, who ran it until 1969, when it was taken over by the National Botanic Gardens of South Africa. In 1991, the Botanical Research Institute and the National Botanical Gardens combined to form the National Botanical Institute - the present custodians of the Garden.



The original objectives of the Garden were:

  • Growing plants, primarily trees, for distribution in the colony of Natal.
  • Collecting indigenous plants for exchange.
  • Accumulation of plants of beauty, value and rarity.

Our present day vision:

We strive to excel in growing, displaying and conserving living plant collections of the grasslands of the East Coast region of South Africa for horticultural, educational and scientific purposes.


The photograph above shows the well known the Plane Avenue in 1950. The top photograph shows the avenue soon after it was planted in 1908. The large palm tree in the centre of the picture no longer exists.

Some snippets of Garden history

During the early period (1874-1910), the lower part of the garden was laid out in a geometric pattern, and planted with tightly packed specimens of timber trees. The upper part, or hillside, was planted with various conifers. Many thousands of plants (mainly wattle and eucalyptus) were distributed from the garden, and present-day KwaZulu-Natal probably owes much of its heritage of trees to the generosity of the garden in its early days

Unfortunately this generosity meant that curators of the garden did not stay long, due to low salaries. Two notable curators were G.W.Mitchell, who was curator from 1889 to 1900, and W.E.Marriot, who planted the now famous avenue of plane trees in 1908. Mitchell connected the 2 halves of the garden in 1894. This enabled the public to climb the hillside, from where, it was claimed, one had "the best view in southern Africa".

Amongst our more famous visitors was President Kruger, who planted a Camellia japonica in April 1891. From 1892 onwards the garden provided flowers for exhibition at local flower shows. Azaleas were very popular and grew well in the garden. Sand and shale were extracted from the garden and sold. Some of the shale was probably used to cover the paths in the garden, and sand was sold for building purposes.

Zwartkop road and the path linking Church street to the garden were very poor dirt s, and only in 1899 was Zwartkop road hardened. Transport to the garden at this time was by rickshaw, but these were expensive at a return price of 3 shillings. In 1906 a tramline was constructed to the garden, at a more affordable 8 pence for a return journey from the city hall.

A quote from the Natalian, 11 October 1907: " The great improvements that have taken place in the last 2 years are rapidly raising the garden to a position second to none in South Africa, and it is a matter of amazement that so much could have been accomplished in so short a time... a veritable lung of the city, soothing to the eye and brain, and appealing to the sense of all that is beautiful and good and noble." And Sir Frederick Keeble in the 1930's: "An ideal Botanical Garden: the Pride of Natal - and of Kew"

Information taken from 'The Way to Kirstenbosch', by McCracken and McCracken, National Botanic Gardens, 1988. See publications under Products&Services

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