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Johannesburg Botanic Gardens History


Entrance Rose Garden

What is now Joburg started in 1886 as a fast growing, rough and raw mining camp. Those early years saw scant attention paid to the provision of parks for its residents. Joubert Park, the first established park in the city and later home of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, dates from 1892. A parks department was established only after the Anglo-Boer South African War (1899 – 1902) when a start was made with the development of parks and recreational spaces.

In the early years, land was at a premium along the main Witwatersrand gold reef. The City Council could acquire land for recreational purposes only after some of the original farms came on to the market. ‘The Wilds’ – a reserve for indigenous shrubs and flowers in Houghton – was established in 1938. Bezuidenhout Park, on the eastern outskirts, was developed in 1945. The homestead and cemetery of the original owners, the Bezuidenhout family, still exists. Many other parks and sanctuaries followed all over the city and its suburbs.

The Johannesburg Botanic Garden opened in 1968 and 125 hectares of land adjoining the Emmarentia Dam. It was established on a portion of the original farm Braamfontein. This was purchased in 1887 by the brothers Frans and Louw Geldenhuys in the vain hope of finding gold. Louw Geldenhuys named his farm Emmarentia, after his wife. In 1903 after the Anglo-Boer South African War, he employed a number of Boer veterans to build a dam – his aim was to create work for impoverished rural migrants and to secure an adequate water supply for fruit farming. He leased smallholdings planted with fruit trees to a number of dam builders as tenant farmers, and they repaid him with a third of their harvests. Although the city was rapidly expanding on his doorstep, Geldenhuys would not allow the development of suburban townships on his land. It was only after his death in 1929 that the family proceeded to sell portions of the farm for development. The Botanic Gardens, Melville Koppies and the West Park Cemetery were developed on this land purchased by the City Council. The original Geldenhuys farm dwellings are still to be found in the suburb of Emmarentia, one in Marks Park - now a popular recreational park and sports grounds - and the other in Greenhill Road. The family cemetery is situated on Hill Road and is still maintained by family members.