Garden Explorer at Stellenbosch Botanical Garden

There is something magical about a beautiful garden It is the place where stories
about our evolution have their origin But gardens are getting more sophisticated Terese went to Stellenbosch to visit a garden that
makes use of technology in a very practical way When the botanical garden in Stellenbosch
was founded a hundred years ago they would never
have guessed that you would one day be able to use a phone to tell you what each plant is But in 2015 this is quite normal Garden Explorer is a web application
especially designed for smart phones Used by Stellenbosch University which links to their plant collection database It is the first of its kind in Africa and
the first to have content in more than one language What do you think of Garden Explorer? I think it is one of the most profound pieces
of new technology that I have seen. The garden itself is a miraculous place Though not equal in size to large gardens such as Kew or San Diego or even Uppsala However, it is similar in its diversity And to now link this software interface
to such richness… I want to drag every school child into this garden and tell them to bring their cell phones
to see how well it works And it can only get better as they are still developing the system further So how does it work? I know nothing of technology but the garden with its laboratory, herbarium and
greenhouses full of plants and names, is a huge repository of information These names are now linked
to a map which follows your location so in other words if you now for example press plant number 14 on the map then you see it is a ‘Welwitschia’. It is really simple You can see that we have a map
of the garden that you can enlarge And then there are markers with labels which when pressed tell you for example
‘upper garden rockeries’ Even an untrained person like myself
can figure this out. With Garden Explorer you can make a tour of the garden and get information such as
species names and historic landmarks Or choose one of the self-guided tours
which have been set up I have heard a lot about this and I am very curious to see how it works, can you please show me? It is very simple By using the search function you can insert a search term for a species, genus, family or their common names or select an area in the garden If you wish to search for water-lilies for example you can just type the text “water” and then all the plants with the text “water” in their name
will be listed The last plant in this list is the Victoria water-lily or Santa Cruz water-lily which is very popular with visitors Oh, somebody forgot their child! And then you can use the map to search for the location of the plants The tours feature is just as easy Click the tours button and select your tour This one is about plants from China,
showing where they are located in the garden It can be used to guide you through the collections, to search for a personal field of interest
within the collections and learn more about it What does a curator do at a botanical garden? I am involved in everything from the management of the collections to liaising with the public I manage the garden as a University asset The garden here at Stellenbosch
is more than a hundred years old Can you tell me more about its history? The roots of the garden date back to 1902 when Augusta Vera Duthie
was appointed as the first lecturer in botany at what was then Victoria College There are references to her
having had a greenhouse and garden next to the old main building about a block from here In 1921 the University made this property available and then the garden was established here To which degree does Garden Explorer have an impact and how important is it to the University? It is very important for the University, it is vital for the contribution the University makes on education, training and its social impact It contributes in many ways to the
core mission of the University Do you often visit the garden yourself? Absolutely, I come here regularly and on a day like today you can understand why I also bring my visitors here, also from abroad for a cup of coffee and a chat,
they also enjoy it very much Which part of the garden is your favourite? It is the waterlilies But if I have to say what my favourite plant is, I started recently as rector
and vice-chancellor in Stellenbosch, so I have to say the oak tree The garden is divided into many themed gardens, Which includes water-lily ponds, rock gardens, a fern house, tropical and arid greenhouses Then there is also a bulb section and bonsai house Tell me more about the bonsai collection? This bonsai collection is the oldest public bonsai collection in Africa But few people realise how valuable it is It is a cultural treasure for many reasons The oldest tree was grown by Becky Lucas. She pioneered bonsai in South Africa in 1939 and the pine behind me is from 1940 And you can see how healthy the tree still looks South Africa was one of the first countries in the West to practise the art of bonsai and those trees are still standing here Where did your interest in bonsai start? I was a journalist reporting on the Trust and Reconciliation Commission It was a traumatic experience and I needed something to balance out my life And I chose bonsai I have never looked back It is the best therapy one can get What difference will Garden Explorer
make to the visitor’s experience? Young people love their cell phones
and with Garden Explorer they can press a button and search for a plant to study its biology and get all the information
without coming to the garden, though of course we would
prefer them to come here So this will help people who walk in here
thinking it is just a bunch of small trees to learn more about what is really going on here? It will tell you what tree it is, how old.
It was planted in this way. This artist that designed it When it was re-potted and when it was re-designed Everything just like that If you are a plant person and you are in the region
then a visit to this garden is a must But here you do not need to put your cell phone away You need to take it out and use it This is technology at its best…