How often do you take a walk in your local park or nature reserve. Are you even aware of where one is? Recently I visited the Jan Smuts House in Irene. I was honestly not aware that there where hiking trails there. It was interesting to walk this arboretum with a different set of eyes.

To understand this landscape, one needs to understand its history. The area where the Smuts house is located is classified as a rocky Highveld. Smuts was also a lover of botany, exploring and collecting different plant species across South Africa. The gardens surrounding Smut’s house where influenced by this love of botany as he plated was is called an arboretum, a plantation of indigenous trees. At first glance this beautiful landscape is surrounded by soaring pine trees. Our tour guide informed us that the needles dropped by the pine trees cause the ground to become acidic preventing other plants from growing. These pine trees are an invasive species that grows and spread. They are also an exotic tree that was brought to South Africa.

The further away you move from the Smuts house, the more natural the landscape becomes. The landscape if filled with beautiful trees such as Stinkwood trees, blue gums, cabbage trees- Cussonia spicata (Harding 2016), Mountain Karee’s – Rhus leptodictya, and the Acacia trees. (Highveld And Grassland Regions 2016). What I found so fascinating was the relationship between nature. Acacia trees grow when they sense there is a disturbance in nature. They grow to try protect and allow the grass to grow beneath them. There is also a moss that grows on the barks of the tree’s predominantly on the south side. This was if you get lost you know here north is. There is a beautiful interaction of nature within itself. Yet saying that, nature is also a vicious creature. The stinkwood trees grow fairly close to each other, but it’s a race to the skies. Once one tree has reached the top of the canopy the other stinkwood trees start to die off and decompose to allow other plants to grow. This is only a few of the many trees and grass species we saw along our hike.

Once we got to a vantage point is was interesting to see the influences of urbanisation and modernisation on the area. To the right we could see old established homes that had beautifully incorporated nature into their landscape. To the left we saw blocks of concrete as the stretched bare and baron with no greenery. What is sad to know is that the original Smuts farms has been sold off over the years for development. This area that once was large hectares of farms land has now been turned into houses, shops and offices. The beautiful Highveld landscape is slowly dwindling to only a few areas of conserved land.  This site that we visited is not only a historical site that plays a part in South African history. Yet it also a place that allows the community to engage and be part of the beautiful nature

One of the environmental concerns that I have notices is the lack of incorporating nature into the developing landscape and preserving indigenous plant species. Many new developments are being built over fading landscapes of nature. These new developments are cold concrete jungles. They echo of the words of modernisation and industrialisation. We need to as a community and environmentally concerned citizens pay attention to this change and find ways of incorporating “green” into our environment and new designs. Humanity has slowly lost touch with nature. As families and friends we need to reengage with the environment. As I mentioned earlier, I was total unaware of this environment and site that was literally down the road from me. As communities we need to create awareness of where we can engage with nature and explore the beauty of the natural environment.

In conclusion this series of blog posts has made me more aware of nature and the environment in which I live. When you start to think about nature you start to notice it. You notice when it disappears and fades away as you move into the cold new world. I think that as citizens of planet earth we need to care for the environment. We are not going to stop developing land and making money off production. However we need to keep the environment in mind when we do this. We need to preserve and make space for the beauty of nature and see the importance it plays are defining us and our environment.


Sources consulted:

Harding, G. 2016. Sixty Indigenous Trees of Gauteng. [O] Available at: Accessed 11 May 2016.

HIGHVELD AND GRASSLAND REGIONS. 2016. 1st ed. [O] Available at:  df. Accessed 11 May 2016. 2016. Smuts House Museum. [O] Available at: 11 May 2016.


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