The Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit
A subtropical paradise awaits the wearied city traveler in the heart of Nelspruit’s business district. Amidst the well-manicured frontages of vehicle showrooms lies the turn-off of the Lowveld Botanical Gardens, cherished by locals and international travelers alike. African Tropical rainforest trees tower as a beacon of wildness as you drive towards the Gardens (one of only 9 in the country). The hustle and bustle of Nelspruit city is quickly dampened as this spread of manmade woods envelopes the senses into a green wall of hush interspersed with the sound of flowing rivers. Yes, two rivers that converge in the Gardens.
Spanning a myriad of showcase gardens with some gigantic and unique specimens and phenotypes, the Lowveld Botanical Gardens does not disappoint, especially in terms of biodiversity.
Cutting a path through the greenery is the mighty Crocodile River which cascades to beautiful effect once the summer rain has swelled its banks. The Nels River also snakes through the Garden, which is under the watchful eye of a towering sprayer which when activated is quite a sight to behold as it waters the African rainforest area of the Gardens.
On a warm summer’s day in Nelspruit Mbombela the deeply shaded glades of this botanical gem erupt into a fine spray as the brown Crocodile River leaps of a cliff forming a waterfall and what is known as ‘The Cascades’(Nelspruits version of Victoria Falls/Niagara Falls, depending where you hail from). The Cascades are a sought-after respite from the Lowveld summers heat best viewed from the Nels viewpoints with a sundowner in your hand.
The Gardens are a perfect spot for a picnic or just way to familiarize yourself with the local greenery. In other ways the Nelspruit Botanical Gardens offer insight into local stars of the Lowveld plant world, which is as biodiverse as it comes.
Citizen scientists value the Lowveld Botanical Gardens and there is also a stream of scientific gatherings at the Gardens for those with a keen interest in the natural world.
At 159 hectares with a dazzling 2600 varieties of plant species to experience, 600 of which are local, for the serious plant buff there are many reasons to return. For those of us who are just looking for a calming walk among local plant life as a mental palate cleanser, the Lowveld Botanical Gardens provides interest in terms of bridges suspended over waterways and raised walkways that elevate you closer to the lush canopy.
Clustering swathes of arrangements of clivias and agapanthus are showstoppers of the Bulb Garden when in season and often visitors end up finding their favourite part of the Gardens and return at annual intervals to enjoy the show natures provides.
We love the enormous Raffia Palms that dwarf even a tall man and rekindle the joy of childhood wonder, with leave-stalks so large and sharp that you could use them as a swords.
Apart from the Bulb Garden, the Garden is further divided into a Tropical African Rainforest section, a Wild Fig section, Baobab, Cycad, Corkwood and Cabbage Trees sections and a South African Forest section perched on the banks of the Croc river.
Sections of Sour Bushveld will also put a smile on your face and over 90 species of Cycads make it a must see for the Cycad lovers.
Even if plants are really not your thing, the Gardens are a soothing experience for the stressed executive, and very conveniently located a few kilometers from Shandon Nelspruit Lodge.
The Lowveld Botanical Gardens act as venue for amazing performances by local and international musicians and actors and has an impressive list of annual events that pull in the crowds for reasons other than plant appreciation. Depending on what experience you would like, check at the front desk if any events are on.
For the butterfly and moth fans, the Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit are on the flight path of beauties such as the brightly coloured Pearl-spotted Charaxes (Latin: Charaxes jahlusa rex). The beautiful Van Son’s Charaxes (Latin: Charaxes vansoni) and Pearl Charaxes (Latin: Charaxes varanes varanes) were recorded by Citizen Scientists at the botanical garden through The Animal Demography Unit(ADU). Also spotted there by citizen scientists were:
• Little Acraea (Latin: Acraea axina)
• Layman (Latin: Amauris albimaculata albimaculata)
• White-barred Telchinia (Latin: Telchinia encedon encedon)
• Angola White Lady (Latin: Graphium angolanus angolanus)
• Shade Swallowtail (Latin: Papilio constantinus constantinus)
• Mocker Swallowtail (Latin: Papilio dardanus cenea)
Reviews of the Botanical Gardens Nelspruit:
- Sally D from Johannesburg gave it a 5 Star review and writes on Tripadvisor :
“Was passing through Nelspruit and had a couple of hours to spare so whilst my hubby was busy I stopped in at the Lowveld Botanical gardens. What a treat – it was quiet and too beautiful for words .. I walked the paths past gushing waterfalls, saw butterflies and birds, crossed the suspension bridge and meandered along the canopy walk way through the trees. I didn’t see any hippos but did spot a green water snake .. it was so peaceful with the background noise of running water and singing birds. Lots of info along the way – all well marked and informative. I stopped in at the restaurant – friendly staff – for a drink and further viewing with my binoculars. You will feel that all is well with the world whilst you’re there !!!
- BeBarefoot77 from Knysna writes on Tripadvisor(giving it a 5 Star review as well):
“In an attempt to get out the hotel room and get some exercise…i decided to head for the Lowveld botanical garden…not being a plant expert I expected space to walk and plants with labels and names i cant pronounce, but WOW was I surprised!
Due to heavy rain downpour the day before…the waterfalls were magnificent and breathtaking! Yes that’s right…plural…more than one waterfall!
I spent half a day but could easily have stayed the entire day. Boasting a braille trail, medical plant collection, cycads for africa, a wild fig tree collection, african rain forests, view points, interesting info boards, a suspension bridge and even a restaurant…this is by far the best botanical garden I have visited.
…I will most definitely go visited again and this time pack a picnic lunch and spend the day. Despite navigating through the garden on my own…i didn’t feel unsafe at all. The garden is huge and even though it is peak season in South Africa…it never felt crowded.”
Great reviews, but as always, double check opening times and availability before for the day of your arrival and ensure you check the latest reviews on review platforms for a good idea of any changes or new attractions at the Gardens as well as upcoming live events.
Get out and about and visit this local Nelspruit attraction or check out other things to do in Nelspruit Mbombela. Book your stay with Shandon Lodge.