Our own garden of Eden

IT IS said that man had his beginnings in a garden – and as civilisation has developed, so has the "art of gardening".

From the days of early hunter-gatherers to the apogee of the cultivated show gardens such as those prepared for the Chelsea Flower Show – the massing of colour and form to describe an aesthetic expression of beauty that gives the onlooker pleasure, has occupied the minds and the talents of many throughout the ages.

The enclosure of outdoor space to create a designed landscape began in about 10000 BC, and was probably simply a barrier to keep animals and other marauders out of an area.

The modern words "garden" and "yard" are descendants of the old English term "geard" – meaning a fence or an enclosure.

Ornamental gardens, as we know them, are in fact a very recent concept in the West, as most gardens were cultivated for food or medicine, or for ceremonial use – but in the East, as far back as 2000 BC, the Chinese were growing plants as a purely aesthetic expression – for the beauty of their colour and form.

Forest gardening, a plant-based food production system is the world's oldest form of gardening. Originally an area of land was enclosed and in a gradual process of families improving their original environment, useful trees and other plant species were identified, protected and improved, while undesirable species were eliminated.

Similarly one of the oldest gardens in Hogsback, the arboretum – meaning a place where trees are grown for study and display – was established in 1884, by the British colonial government of the time. In the 1800s the steady influx of settlers, and later on the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa, created an endless demand for timber – for homes, furniture, tools, wagons, wheels and ships.

The seemingly endless and bountiful indigenous forests of the Eastern Cape were being pillaged and destroyed in the quest for easy timber. It proved impossible to limit the depredations of the indigenous trees. Being soft and easy to work and having a beautiful appearance when finished, gigantic ancient yellowwoods were felled.

Sneezewood, assegai and wild peach being harder, were cut to make wagons and wheels, fence posts and tool handles.

The damage to the forests of the land was enormous and seemingly endless. Tree farming/ forestry was started to meet the demand, and to slow the destruction of the indigenous forest areas.

Joseph Storr Lister was appointed as conservator of forests in the Eastern Cape in 1888. Based in King William's Town, he began the difficult task of managing the Amathole forests. He initiated the first forestry trials in the Hogsback Arboretum in 1890 with the planting of non-indigenous trees brought in from all over the world to see how they would grow in the moist uplands.

By 1910, some 80 hectares had been planted with trees. The monterey pine from North America, and wattles from Australia proved to be fast growing and thrived – the English oaks and Japanese cedars (cryptyomerias) also did well, but did not make for good timber – too much rain results in very fast soft growth and the timber splits.

Also in the Hogsback Arboretum one can find the largest Californian redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) in South Africa – the five trees in the arboretum were planted by Joseph Storr, one for each of his children – but his youngest daughter Nel, never had one planted for her as she was not yet born. There are other redwoods in Hogsback – at Hurry and Mirrors, at Nutwoods Park and at Malingwa – and these amazing trees are known to be the fastest growing redwoods in the world. They are visited and measured annually by a great grandson of one of the original five Lister children – who is a professor of botany at London University.

The Hogsback Arboretum is our very own living tree museum. Filled with trees from all over the world and Africa, it is now a unique public garden. It offers a delightful and easy park-like walk – admire the 39 Steps waterfall, the beautiful azaleas, Japanese maples, hydrangeas, and arum and day lilies, which grow in lush profusion, while keeping an eye open for the rare Cape parrots, colourful loeries (Knysna turaco) and samango monkeys who frequent the aerial tree landscape.

There are new delegated donation areas lovingly established by the Hogsback Garden Club, who today have undertaken the task of keeping the Arboretum cleared and beautified – the garden of remembrance and the garden of love – where one can plant a tree as a living memorial to loved ones, and one can also enquire about booking a forest wedding.

One of the wild gardens of Hogsback is The Bluff at The Edge. It is a windy grassland area, typical of the original Eastern Cape fynbos ecology of Hogsback. Located at the top of the ridge on what was previously the boundary between the Ciskei and South Africa, The Bluff falls steeply down via a series of cliffs to the valley floor some 500m below. From the garden benches placed around the 1km circular walk, The Bluff is a place where one can contemplate the world as one gazes over the white, salmon and pink ericas looking down at the view over the Tyhume Valley and watching the lazy circling of crowned eagles riding the thermals above the small proteas, orange watsonias and natural brackens of this field-like nature reserve.

The arboretum is looked after and maintained by the Hogsback Garden Club using funds raised at the annual Hogsback Spring Saunter, which was held recently, and from tours of Hogback's private gardens, which take place from September 21 to October 31.

ýFollow our series on the gardens of Hogsback.