Cape Town’s (kinda) secret gardens

The gardens in and around Cape Town are a thing of magic – whether that’s manicured Victorian rose beds or the exotic fynbos of the Cape floral kingdom. Beat the crowds and check out some of these “secret” gardens.

The gardens in and around Cape Town are a thing of magic – whether that’s manicured Victorian rose beds or the exotic fynbos of the Cape floral kingdom. Beat the crowds and check out some of these “secret” gardens.

1. Montebello Design Centre

A stone’s throw from the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Gardens in Newlands, Montebello is a great place for a garden breakfast, lunch or tea. Meander through its garden and greenhouse, dotted with fanciful sculptures, artworks and majestic Camphor trees. Part gallery, artists’ studio, nursery and restaurant, this hidden treasure is ideal for personal reflection or relaxed meet ups.

2. Arderne Gardens

It’s a wonder more people don’t know about Arderne Gardens, a quiet haven off Claremont’s boisterous Main Road. Founded in the mid-1800s for timber merchant Ralph Henry Arderne’s eclectic mix of international flora, the garden is now home to one of the most diverse and valuable collections of exotic trees in all of South Africa. This is according to the non-profit group Friends of Arderne Gardens, which says the collection includes one of the largest trees in South Africa, the vast Moreton Bay Fig, and quite possibly the largest Aleppo Pine in the world.

3. Vergelegen Estate

Ok, we know this one isn’t really such a big secret, but it’s a garden of mythical romance nonetheless! Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West has 17 perfectly manicured gardens that seem straight out of a BBC period drama. It’s a perfect place for history buffs or the leisurely wanderer: pre-book a picnic, sample estate wines or leisurely stroll through its myriad of unique gardens.

4. Wild West Coast

If you’re hankering to get out of the city entirely, book your spring trip up Cape Town’s west coast to the West Coast National Park for a five-day flower tour in mid-August. The secret to these wild gardens? You never know exactly what to expect or when exactly this floral fantasy will happen, but when it does, it’s a dazzling display of Mother Nature at her finest.

Five of the best picnic spots in Cape Town

If you go down to the beach today, you might get a big surprise. Because today’s the day Capetonians have their picnic… Any day, really. If the sun is shining, Cape Town locals will find an excuse to whip out that picnic blanket. Here are five favourite spots…

1. Oudekraal beach

Part of the Table Mountain National Park, Oudekraal beach is one of Cape Town’s best kept secrets. Situated in a sheltered cove between Camps Bay and Llandudno, this pretty little beach is nicely protected from the wind. In addition to a lovely swimming area and its own colony of seals, Oudekraal also features a grassy picnic and braai area between the beach and the parking lot. The Milkwood trees dotted across the lawn ensure some degree of privacy.

Because it forms part of a conservation area, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee (R35 per adult and R20 per child) unless you possess a WILD Card or TMNP MY Green Card. It really is a nominal fee for so much beauty and tranquillity! One point worth noting is that there is a strict no-alcohol policy.

2. Le Pique Nique at Boschendal

One of the oldest farms in South Africa, Boschendal in the Drakenstein Valley offers up not one, but two picnic destinations. Choose between the classic Boschendal picnic on the lawns of the Rhone Homestead or the more casual ambiance of the Werf Garden picnic spot.

Rhone picnics can be enjoyed at carefully laid picnic tables or on blankets under the shady oak trees. Picnic baskets (R440, serves two) include a selection of pâtés, breads, salads, cold meats, artisan cheeses and preserves and delicious farm-made ice-cream.

The picnic baskets on offer at the Werf Garden are slightly less extravagant (for a more modest price of R350/basket) and the picnic area is only partially serviced. This is a great option if you have kids as there is a jungle gym, plenty of space for them to frolic and hammocks and beanbags for lounging. You can also order a kiddies’ picnic basket for R85. This venue also has live music on the first Sunday of every month.

3. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

Picnics at Kirstenbosch are many things: treasured memories from childhood, lazy afternoons with friends, a prelude to your favourite summer concert, or a quick fix of nature 10 minutes from the city centre.

One of the best botanical gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch offers up 36 hectares of pristine garden, which means that you’ll always find that perfect spot for your picnic. Bring you own – no tables, chairs, or umbrellas allowed – or pick up a picnic hamper at the Kirstenbosch Tea Room or moyo restaurant.

Kirstenbosch is open between 08h00 and 19h00 in summer, and entry fees range from R15 (kids) to R55 (adults) per person.

4. Cape Point Vineyards

It’s hard to beat the view from Cape Point Vineyards in Noordhoek: vineyards, mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. The lawn next to the dam is a great place to drink while away a lazy afternoon. Picnic baskets (R395, serves two), which need to be booked at least 24 hours in advance, include ciabatta, a selection of charcuterie, local cheeses, salads and chocolate, salted caramel and brownie trifle! Your booking also includes a picnic blanket and pillows, so all you need to do is pitch up.

The wine farm is well known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines. Beverages aren’t included in the basket, so you’ll want to bring along a little extra cash to buy a bottle… or two.

5. Vergelegen

Forget about plastic cutlery and soggy sandwiches. If you want to do a picnic in style, head to Vergelegen in Somerset West. From November to April, you can indulge in a sophisticated picnic – at a table, of course – in the Camphor Forest. If it’s romance you’re after, ask them to put you at a table deep in the forest away from the other guests.

Picnic baskets, which exclude beverages and gratuity, will set you back R215 per person (or R95 for kids). You can expect breads and pâtés, smoked salmon wraps, Moroccan beef kebabs, spinach and feta quiches, coronation chicken, a selection of cheeses, and whatever dessert the chef is cooking up that day.