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The Gardens were at first open to subscribers and the military free of charge, with certain free days a week for the public. Music in the Gardens was recorded from 1856 to 1862 when the band of the 10th Regiment performed regularly on Saturday afternoons. There was a gap in this activity due to the removal of troops, but by 1864 the band of the 96th Regiment had taken their place on Wednesday afternoons.

In 1861, however, there was controversy as to the attractions of the Gardens as a place of relaxation and entertainment. Mr Thompson soon insisted that on Sundays the place would be a resort for everyone after church and the committee was obliged to have a policeman on the ground to check irregularities. He felt that instead of being a place of science, it had become a mere place of lounging. Following this the Gardens were closed on Sundays but by 1867 they had re-opened daily from 6am to 6pm.

Due to drought problems the committee and curators of the Botanic Gardens turned their attention to improving the water supply wherever possible. They purchased a piece of ground to secure a passage into the Garden from Beaufort Street and piped water from the quarry spring. By 1865 three dams had been erected and Corporation water piped from Beaufort Street and in 1866 a well was sunk on the land facing Beaufort Street, a force pump installed and water pumped to the lower part of the garden. 1877 saw the introduction of a steam pump and, in 1879, several lots of land in Grey Street were purchased so that the garden possessed land on both sides of the Kowie River, essential for dam building. By 1881 the new dam was complete and an additional steam pump had been purchased and installed. Despite a severe drought in 1882, the Committee reported a marked improvement in the Garden.

The Gardens bridge
A walkway-bridge at the garden's stream

The Garden contained numerous vegetation such as grafted fruit trees, ornamental shrubs and trees that were imported from England. Some indigenous plants and shrubs were also grown. The curators built up plant and seed exchange with botanic societies in with places such as London, New Zealand, Melbourne and Brisbane. They also made timber a major concern as they experimented with trees to find those suitable for the climate and terrain. In 1857 the Gardens had supplied fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs to almost every town and village on the frontier, and had provided some of the villages of German military settlers with their entire stock of fruit trees.
The flower gardens and hot-houses formed an important component of the Gardens, although the former did at times suffer in drought years. Plants included Caladiums, rock roses, Spiraea sp., and many more. These were all carefully nurtured and made the Gardens a constant source of delight and interest to visitors. Roses were also imported and at least 14 strains were recorded, including Duchess of Orleans, Jupiter, Gipsy Girl, Catherine Parr and Rose of Denmark, to name just a few.

In 1922 ownership of the Botanical Gardens passed from the Grahamstown Botanical Committee to the Grahamstown Municipality. In 1964 a significant change took place. The establishment of a Provincial Nature Reserve which would provide a setting for the projected 1820 Settler’ National Monument was proposed. The Reserve would include the Botanical Gardens. The significance of the transfer of ownership was twofold. First, the Garden, now incorporated into a floral reserve, were donated by the Grahamstown Municipality to form a specific component of the National Memorial to the 1820 Settlers on Gun Fire Hill. The objectives were to erect and maintain a Monument in Grahamstown in honour of the 1820 and other English-speaking settlers and to promote its use as a cultural, educational and conference centre.

These objectives included the establishment in 1965 of the 1820 Settlers’ Memorial Museum by the Cape Provincial Administration as well as the development of the Nature Reserve to incorporate English period gardens and a rich diversity of Eastern Cape flora. Second was the introduction of limiting cultivation to the indigenous flora of Albany and Bathurst, followed by the Eastern Cape in general. The nature of the original settlers was changed and their historic flora diminished. The official policy was to plant and replace with indigenous flora – a policy in line with most Botanical Gardens in South Africa.

In July 1994, the original tract of land promised to Grahamstown by Sir Harry Smith as a Botanic Garden, and granted to the City by Sir George Cathcart in 1853, was declared a National Monument, together with the cottage Ornee which still stands.

An array of colour
An array of colour seen from the Lucas Avenue Entrance

Intriguing beauty in the Gardens
Intriguing beauty in the Gardens