By SIBABALWE TAME
At the Observatory Museum, people gathered to celebrate the Museum’s herb garden on Friday, 25 November 2022.
Present at the occasion were various stakeholders, including the local municipality represented by Makana Tourism, Albany Museum staff, Albany Horticultural Society, and various Makhanda community members.
The Observatory Museum Garden was established with the generous assistance of friends of the Albany Museum Society, the Department of Nature, Environment and Conservation, and the Grahamstown Women’s Agricultural Association.
In 2018, the Observatory Museum building underwent a restoration process, where they focused on fixing the leaking roof, painting the walls, sanding the floors and fixing the balustrading.
“After the restoration of the building, the plan was to work on the restoration of the garden so that the outside can complement the inside and our visitors can get to enjoy a beautiful garden,” said Albany Museum Curator Zekhaya Gxotelwa.
The purpose of the garden is rooted in history
The garden’s purpose was not only for enjoyment, but the herb garden is historical and dates back to Victorian times. Gxotelwa said that the Victorians made wise use of the herbs in medicine and food, as well as for fragrances and beauty preparations.
She also spoke about the historical figure, botanist and banker Mr Ernest Galpin, who was interested in local plants and spent long hours dissecting and identifying wildflowers. His wife, Georgina, was also interested in plants and liked the Observatory Museum garden.
“Mr Galpin’s wife, Georgina was very fond of this Garden,” she said.
Gxotelwa added that Galpin’s mother also had a passion for gardening. In one of his memoirs, Ernest Galpin also wrote of his mother’s passion and fondness for flowers. She paid much attention to her beautiful garden and greenhouse and included many native plants amongst those cultivated. On fine afternoons his mother would drive out in her Volkswagen phaeton, taking one or two lady friends with her to the neighbouring hills and valley. She would later bring home bunches of Agapanthus, Dioramas (hair bells), various Heaths, Watsonians, Proteas, and other wildflowers, in which (then Grahamstown) Makhanda hills and valleys are so prolific.
With the current restoration, the Observatory Museum have planted the same herbs and plants and has kept the garden in its original state. The garden has 90% indigenous local plants and herbs. Gxotelwa said that the herb garden had been long awaited, it took them long after the restoration of the building to finally restore the garden, and it is still a work in progress.
“We hope to one day get it to the state that it was during Mrs Georgina Galpin’s time,” she said.
Acknowledgement of donors
The conservator at Albany Museum Anva Chiazarri, acknowledged and thanked donors and various community members for their spirit of generosity and for taking the time to take part in the high tea.
She also thanked the chairperson of the Albany Horticultural Society Heather Surridge, and award-winning Gardner Sally Koen, for their assistance in planting, painting and helping with advice. “We got so many donations of plants from the museum staff, manager and many members of the public, including Heather Surridge, Sally Koen and many others,” she said.
Programme director Manzi Vabaza, also added that without donations, the garden would not have a success.
Heather Surridge also added that the people who want to donate to the garden can get hold of her on her number, 079 587 9077.
Gardener Heather Koen, later added that various people helped with gardening and planting at the Observatory Museum. One gentleman working at the Observatory Museum planted spinach, while another young lady planted other seeds between various plants.
Introducing the speaker for the day
Heather Koen, introduced the speaker at the occasion, multi-award-winning Gardner Sally Koen. She described Sally Koen as her ‘friend and fellow gardener’ who was born in Matatiela and spent her childhood in Lusikisiki. Sally Koen had an old gardener who taught her how to grow roses and how to take slips of roses. “Sally got her green fingers from her mother,” said Heather Koen.
The day’s speaker, Sally Koen talked about Victorian gardening and its history.
“The Victorian era stretches from 1807 to 1901; it was a time of lifestyle improvement,” she said. She added that there was a window tax in England, and people could not afford to pay for all the windows, but they abolished the window tax when they learnt how to make sheet glass. There was innovation in using steel, and there are typical examples of the Victorian-style rot iron used in the Observatory Museum garden.
She said she had found a list of the kinds of plants the Victorian gardeners preferred. One type of plant is the Bluebell, which Sally Koen found in her garden and collected to plant at the Observatory Museum garden. “From my own garden, I have matched the list that I found in the books,” she said.
A vote of thanks
Albany Museum Botanist Dr Phumlani Cimi, concluded the occasion by thanking all of the individuals that took their time to attend the celebration of the Observatory Museum’s herb garden.