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Museum Brings a Bit of South Africa to Central London


South Africa landscape exhibit at The British Museum

South Africa landscape exhibit at The British Museum

An African landscaped garden is growing (and thriving) in front of The British Museum. The plants were brought from South Africa's Cape region by ship and include a quiver tree and poker plants.

In the shadow of London's British Museum, is a bit of South Africa's desert.

The museum, working with Kew Botanical Gardens, shipped two refrigerated containers full of South African flowers, shrubs and trees for a six-month exhibit.

"They came from Cape Town in the summer to sort of Britain in the winter through 14 days of darkness," said Steve Ruddy, of Kew Gardens.

A time lapse photography shows how the landscape was put together.

Clearing the soil, arranging tons of sand colored rocks and then planting everything took nearly a month.

Because it was April, there was still a danger of frost, or even snow, so some of the trees were wrapped up to protect them. Months later, the plants are thriving in an uncommonly hot British summer.

"It's called the Quiver Tree and the large branches are hollowed out to keep arrows in," Steve Ruddy explained.

Visitors like Mary, who left South Africa as a child, say they love it.

"It's always thrilling to see the flowers that you were brought up with and that you have seen all tame and domesticated in European gardens and here they are en masse and more as you knew them," she said.

"You look at that quiver tree, it's just amazing how it was brought here," said Bob, an American tourist who did not expect to see anything like this in London. "But, we're glad that we did. Now we don't have to go to South Africa."

Stone carvings in the garden are replicas of ones made by the San people who have lived in South Africa for 20,000 years

Stone carvings in the garden are replicas of ones made by the San people who have lived in South Africa for 20,000 years

It's not a walk on the wild side, but there are animals here, sort of.

"This is a rhino, a wonderful rhino from South Africa, a very important animal," said Chris Springer, The British Museum's Africa curator.

The stone carvings are replicas of ones found in South Africa. They were made by the San people who have lived in South Africa for 20,000 years.

Springer, says they connect to a mystic past.

"These animals may not necessarily be replicas of real animals," he said. "They may be kind of dream animals and the San, the spirit healers amongst the San people today, one of their main roles is to hunt these rain animals in their dreams in a trance state."

The South Africa landscape exhibit at The British Museum

The South Africa landscape exhibit at The British Museum

One corner of the garden is devoted to South African plants under threat from agriculture, housing and invasive plant species. The importance of the country's flora and fauna was one reason for this exhibit.

"South Africa has two percent of the world's land mass but has 10 percent of the world's flora," says Steve Ruddy. "It's a biodiversity hotspot."

About three million people will have a chance to visit the desert landscape on their way to or from the Museum.

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