Zomba Botanical Garden, Malawi, visits Natal National Botanical Garden, South Africa
The idea of twinning Natal National Botanical Garden of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa with Zomba Botanical Garden in Malawi first came up during a discussion on networking Southern African Botanical Gardens at the SABONET Botanical Gardens Workshop of March 2001. The advantages of twinning the gardens were never obvious until I personally visited Natal National Botanical Garden.
It was during this visit that I noted the similarities and concurred with the network’s sentiments of twinning. The first step was the SABONET Project’s very useful Botanical Garden Internship Programme. This initiative saw me visiting Natal National Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg from 10–20 September 2002.
Impressions and Objectives
The first thing that greeted me as I entered the main gate of the garden was their famous and meaningful slogan, “The garden where you never stop learning”! This positive impression was further enhanced by the enthusiasm and cheerfulness of the staff members and their keen interest to teach and learn. All of this made me feel very excited and I looked forward to ten days of learning about Plant Propagation, Environmental Interpretation, Garden Layout, and Labour Deployment.
Mr Brian Tarr, Curator of Natal National Botanical Garden, facilitated my visit and stay. I worked closely with Mr John Roff, the Interpretation Officer of the National Botanical Institute. I learned a lot from him in the area of interpretation and signage. He specifically addressed the issues to suit the different stakeholders and interest groups who frequently visit Zomba Botanical Garden in Malawi.
I also benefited from the untiring efforts of Mrs Isabella Johnson and Mr Siyabalela Nojinge (both horticulturists) who led me in practical demonstrations in plant propagation and garden layout. I also went on outside visits to other institutions in order to see and learn what they were doing.
Interpretation in Botanical Gardens
John Roff defined interpretation simply as a form of communication with the visitors in the garden and that whatever is communicated must be linked with the garden’s mission. The main aim of interpretation in a botanic garden is to get people excited about plants, and to make them realise how important they are and therefore to use them sustainably.
In order to make visitors excited, my mentor emphasised that I must choose one main idea that I want people to understand by the end of a tour. This idea is called a theme. To appreciate the importance of a theme in interpretation and also to develop one for Zomba Botanic Garden, I studied the Interpretive Plan for Natal National Botanical Garden.
carefully studying the Interpretive Plan, I developed one for Zomba Botanic
Garden and designed Zomba interpretive labels for ten tree species in collaboration
with John Roff.
I also took part in a guided walk with Cramond Garden Club members who had come to visit Natal National Botanical Garden on 10 September 2002.
Plan, Zomba Botanical Garden
Indigenous plants are very important.
Indigenous plants are very useful: they are used for medicine, building, and crafts.
Grasslands are full of colour.
Zomba's plant diversity supports many birds and butterflies (wildlife).
You can grow medicinal plants easily.
Replace the plants/trees you use.
You can grow indigenous plants.
You can help others grow indigenous plants.
You can help Zomba BG grow into the future.
Work and Management
I worked closely with Isabel Johnson and Siyabulela Nonjinge in plant propagation and nursery management. I noticed that much of their success in plant propagation is based on the use of treated pine bark as a media. It is available in different texture grades. The coarse texture grade is used for rooting stem cuttings and potting ornamental seedlings. Fine textured pine bark and sand are used to germinate seed. Success is also achieved using a mist propagator.
Apart from the mist propagator, their nursery structures are not sophisticated. However, they are still able to propagate plants to satisfy their needs. This requires a lot of hard work and a keen interest to learn new ideas every day. I took part in practical sessions on the propagation of herbaceous stem cuttings and potting wildings.
I noted that the propagation of indigenous plant species at the nursery is for the enrichment of the botanic garden itself, introducing indigenous plant species to replace the exotics. A commercial horticulturist from a separate nursery conducts plant sales. In this way, the nursery staff at Natal Botanic Garden can concentrate on plant conservation horticulture.
I was taken through the entire botanic garden to understand the tremendous work done in landscaping and layout.
The alien exotics are slowly but steadily being eradicated and replaced by indigenous trees and various other local plants. This is done progressively to ensure that the original beauty of the garden is maintained. I appreciated the art of massing-up and colour-mixing ground covers in the landscape with indigenous flowers from KwaZulu- Natal. In this field of mixing indigenous species for a natural, though spectacular effect, the garden is probably one of the best in southern Africa.
I noticed that the gardeners of Natal National Botanical Garden are willing to learn and to work hard. The garden is divided into different areas, each area with its own supervisor. One of the horticulturists, Mrs Johnson, tours the garden every Monday. She goes to each area to recapitulate and evaluate the previous week’s work progress and to rectify any mistakes. This is also the time that she gives the supervisors new instructions for the week. This weekly exercise ensures new ideas for improvement in the garden. Since I was on botanic garden internship, I was involved in the exercise and found it extremely useful.
The curator, Mr Brian Tarr, liased with several institutions in KwaZulu-Natal, arranging visits for me to learn what others do in the areas of plant propagation and conservation. Brian used all his resources to accommodate me in these trips and to equip me with new knowledge in the process. Time, transport, etc. were sacrificed by his staff members as follows:
11/09/02—Visited the University of Natal and attended a public lecture on the conservation of the Cape Parrot with John Roff.
17/09/02—Visited Greytown to look at Gerbera populations with Isabel Johnson.
18/09/02—Visited a nursery in Escort belonging to Dr Elliot Ndlovu, a traditional healer, to learn about the propagation of traditional herbs with Siyabulela Nonjinge.
19/09/02—Visited the University of Natal and attended a public lecture on Pollination with John Roff and Isabel Johnson.
20/09/02—Visited the Regional Environmental Education Centre in Howick with John Roff. This is the headquarters of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa situated in the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve.
These outside visits were very educative and afforded me with new valuable contacts.
I gained a lot of knowledge during my internship. There was something new to learn every day in all the areas of Plant Propagation, Environmental Interpretation, Garden Layout, and Labour Deployment. Knowledge gained will be put to good use at Zomba Botanic Garden. Some of the nursery structures and garden infrastructures will actually be “imported” to Zomba.
I am glad that I was able to visit the dynamic Natal National Botanical Garden on an internship. The garden certainly lives up to its slogan—there is always learning at Natal National Botanical Garden. It was an enriching visit—one that I will cherish for a long time!
On behalf of the National Herbarium and Botanic Garden of Malawi, I thank Mr Brian Tarr, Curator of Natal National Botanical Garden, for accepting and facilitating my stay during my internship. He was kind and understanding. I thank all members of staff for looking after me and teaching me with so much enthusiasm. A special thanks to Mr John Roff for his mentoring during my visit. I also thank the SABONET Regional Office in Pretoria for providing funding. Finally, I thank National Herbarium and Botanic Garden of Malawi for releasing me for this worthwhile visit.
—by Lloyd G. Nkoloma
SABONET News 8.1:46