The remarkable Miss Stephens
Edith Stephens (1884-1966) played a pioneering role in conserving Cape wetland ecosystems.
Edith Stephens (1884-1966) was a strongly independent woman, occasionally quirky in teaching method and dress, but much loved by the generations of students that she taught during her 29 years at the University of Cape Town. She was one of the three young South African students, on scholarships at Cambridge, whose infectious enthusiasm for the fynbos inspired Robert Compton to seek his future in the Cape (see page 36).
The Edith Stephens Wetland Park links Cape Flats communities with nature.
Wuuler van Warmelo
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Youth groups are involved in habitat restoration projects in the Cape Flats nature reserves, seen here preparing fire-breaks and leading a clean-up campaign.
Recognition was given to Edith Stephens by the Cape Tercentenary Foundation in 1957 for her role in the conservation of the natural flora and fauna of the Cape. Stephens used the award money to purchase a small wetland on the Cape Flats, of special interest because of the community of Isoetes capensis found there – a quillwort, a tiny, spring onion-like member of an ancient group of ‘living fossils’ related to ferns. Only someone with the keen botanical interests of Edith Stephens would have noticed the humble wetland species, let alone sought its conservation. Over time, however, the small patch of wetland donated by Edith Stephens to Kirstenbosch became increasingly isolated from its mothership, adrift in the growing urbanisation, industrialisation, confusion and decay of the Cape Flats. In recent years, thanks to the efforts of Kirstenbosch ecologist George Davis, this reserve – albeit surrounded by dense urban settlement – is once more a haven for nature.
And they offer tribute to the anchor project, the ESWP, which they describe thus:
‘In the midst of this burgeoning industria lies a small jewel: a sparkling stretch of water where egrets and cormorants congregate, a wetland teeming with frogs and aquatic life, a centre buzzing with environmental education and other activities ’.
Interpreting the Garden
Until fairly recently, to meet the goal of educating visitors, it was deemed sufficient to place a name label – usually just the Latin binomial and the country of origin – alongside a plant in a botanical garden. Much has changed in the last decade. Educating the visitor is no longer the objective. Effective and entertaining interpretation is the new goal – encouraging, facilitating and inspiring visitors to ask questions and seek answers themselves. Education is a bonus, not an objective.
With this new philosophy as her framework, Maryke Honig, a young botanist/horticulturist at Kirstenbosch in the 1990s, transformed the rather dreary tradition of name labels into a new approach to enliven the Garden for visitors. Her handblog Making your garden come alive (first published by the SABONET Project) introduced an exciting, stimulating, but unobtrusive suite of interpretation tools. It has since been translated into French, Portuguese and Spanish for use across Africa and Latin America.
Willem Boshoff’s installation ‘Garden of Names ’ flags 2 000 species of threatened plants.
‘A Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall ’ banner conveys a strong message on the planet’s environmental and social crises.