Groupon Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Trip

Kirstenbosch has always been at the forefront of environmental education in South Africa, a proud tradition that has its roots in the first decade of the Garden. The vision so eloquently promoted by Pearson in his seminal papers emphasised the need for a direct link between the Garden and university research and scholarship. But he made no mention of using the Garden as a living schoolroom for the younger generation.

Groupon Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Trip Photo Gallery

Louisa Bolus, founder of the Kirstenbosch environmental education tradition (Courtesy of the Bolus Herbarium)

We must pay tribute to Louisa Bolus (nee Harriet Margaret Louisa Kensit, 1877-1970) for instigating the use of Kirstenbosch as an outdoor classroom for the school children of the Cape. Miss Kensit started working as an assistant in Harry Bolus’ herbarium in 1903, and in 1912, the year after Bolus’ death, she married his son Frank, who also happened to be her own father’s cousin. This remarkable family made extraordinary contributions to research on the country’s flora. As an indefatigable taxonomist who radiated an infectious enthusiasm, Louisa Bolus named no fewer that 1 700 new species, mostly succulents of the family Mesembryanthemaceae – better known as ‘vygies’ or ‘mesems’.

Rustenburg High School visits Kirstenbosch in 1964.

Her role in environmental education is legendary. Soon after the founding of Kirstenbosch, she started taking regular classes of school children on walks around the Garden, teaching them about plants, birds and insects, and their interactions. This was all done on a voluntary basis – she initiated the long and wonderful tradition of volunteerism that has been a mainstay of environmental education in the Garden over its entire history. Compton notes ‘it was Mrs Bolus’ inspired and inspiring leadership and persistent advocacy which brought about the establishment of a recognised connexion between official school education and Nature Study and all its implications … At Easter 1920 she held a 10-day course for Cape Town Training College students, with far-reaching results.’

These results included the appointment by the Cape Provincial Education Department in 1923 of Laetitia Starke as the first official ‘Teacher of Nature Study’ at Kirstenbosch, an arrangement that continued unbroken until 1993 – 70 years and several hundred thousand happy school visits later.

Another of Louisa Bolus’ outstanding contributions to spreading knowledge of, and promoting interest in, the South African flora is her First blog of South African Flowers – a precursor of the Botanical Society’s brilliant series of South African Wild Flower Guides.

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