Cape Town’s park for people: The Company Gardens

The Company Gardens is one of 11 public parks in the City of Cape Town, that is the first to be reviewed in a series of articles. 

Being Transport Month in October it only seemed fitting to learn how to ride a tandem-bike while taking a look at Cape Town’s favourite public park, The Company Gardens. After a short excited discussion with my partner in crime, Thandi, the decision was made “If I can ride a bike, and you can ride a bike, of course we can ride the same bike together”

The Company Gardens has been a central aspect of the inner city’s personality since 1652 when it was started by the Dutch East India Company. The garden was started as a source of fresh food for the multitude of ships that were traveling the spice route from Europe to East India via the Cape of Good Hope. Now the garden attracts an eclectic sample of Cape Town’s residents and visitors.
To ride your tandem-bike through the Company Garden’s is to hear and see the accents of the vivacious Mother City. It’s watching a father and son learning words like “bike”, Thandi & I being the most obvious visual aid. It’s young couples at a variety of stages in their relationships. The newer couples with the one teaching the other not to be afraid of the squirrels coyly approaching the nuts in their hand. The more established pairs electing to spend their time reading, while one rests their head on the knees of there other and then there are the weddings.
That Saturday afternoon Thandi and I were witnesses to the three wedding processions that used the gardens as the setting for their happily ever after. Complete with flower girls running away from Aunty’s desperately attempting to keep pigeons away from the girl’s white dresses and groomsmen ignoring the photographer’s pleas to stand still to hit-on pretty girls walking past. Being in the Company Gardens, “the green heart of Cape Town” has an inciting ability to make you feel included in the past and current lives that combine to shape Cape Town’s stories.
The Company Gardens is made up of pockets of South Africa’s past. At the entrance closest to Adderley Street it is joined to the Slave Lodge that housed the slaves that built large chunks of Cape Town as well as St George’s Cathedral (the seat of the Anglican Church in South Africa). In its centre ,opposite a statue of Jan Smuts and The Garden Tea Room, lies the aviary and next to the aviary stands the old slave bell. The gardens also lies adjacent to the South African National Library, the South African National Gallery, the current Houses of Parliament, Tuynhuis, The Iziko South African Museum and Planetarium. In addition if you make your way through the paddocks you’ll discover the Holocaust Centre and the Great Synagogue.
The actual gardens that make up this floral landmark hold secret clues to Cape Town’s history. In 1898, six years after the municipality took over the gardens in 1892, the boundaries of the gardens was extended to include the Government Avenue and The Paddocks. It was at  this stage that access to the gardens was extended to the general public. The Paddocks were originally a Victorian menagerie that was home to various indigenous members of the animal kingdom including a variety of Antelope as well as a family of Zebra.
As the years went on the Paddocks became the home to government horses, resulting in its fitting name. The rose garden, built in 1929, and all other landscaping has stuck to a Victorian style to preserve the garden’s history. However there is one striking contrast to this style, the Japanese style garden and lantern donated by the Japanese ambassador in 1932.
As Thandi and I publicly discovered that the joint ability to ride a bike did not translate in the natural ability to ride a tandem-bike we rushed head into Capetonian camaraderie. The afternoon was filled with an array of men, women and children from every corner of the city freely providing technical advice, cheering us on or using us as their afternoon entertainment, in the most polite way. It became clear that the day the gardens became a public right, it became a place in which you could intimately encounter the nature of Cape Town’s city bowl.