Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam Are Open

by | Aug 3, 2020 | COVID-19, Johannesburg, Melville and Surrounds, Parks/Nature Reserves | 34 comments

When the pandemic first hit and South Africa locked down, the closure of Emmarentia Dam and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens (two parks that are essentially one — I will refer to the whole thing as “Emmarentia” going forward) was one of my greatest sources of sadness. Emmarentia is my favorite park to run and walk in, and while several other Joburg parks (Delta Park, the Melville Koppies, James and Ethel Gray) remained unofficially open during Level 4 and Level 3, Emmarentia was firmly closed.

Winter at Emmarentia Dam
Winter at Emmarentia Dam.

After an interminable wait, President Ramaphosa finally announced about three weeks ago that all South African parks would re-open. Most parks opened their gates that week, but for some reason Joburg City Parks delayed the opening of the city’s “nature reserves” — including Emmarentia, the Wilds, and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden — until 1 August. (I have no idea why nature reserves are different from parks.)

I got so excited when I drove past Emmarentia last Saturday and saw people walking inside. I decided to go first thing this morning and bring my camera.

Dog park section of Emmarentia Dam
The dog park section of Emmarentia Dam.

My First Visit to Emmarentia Dam in Four Months

I panicked when I drove to my usual Emmarentia parking area on Orange Road and found it completely empty, with the gate locked. It was about 7:30, a time when the park is usually full of joggers and dog-walkers, and I saw no sign of life inside.

I started cussing and almost gave up and drove home. But luckily I decided to drive around to the main Johannesburg Botanical Gardens entrance on Oliphants Road — next to the bridge that goes over the dam wall. The main entrance is the only one open, as it turns out. A guard is posted there to take everyone’s temperature and ensure they sign in.

Once inside, I found the park almost completely empty and had a glorious hourlong walk. It was so peaceful and quiet. Although it’s winter, and the grass is brown and all the trees are bare, I still got a few nice pictures.

Emmarentia Dam
Bridge in Emmarentia
Frosted flowers in Emmarentia
I decided to do some frost photography.
Heather crossing a bridge in Emmarentia Dam
Hugenot Memorial in Johannesburg Botanical Gardens
The Hugenot Memorial, built in 1988 to commemorate the 300th anniversary the French Hugenots’ arrival in South Africa.
The honey bees were having a ball in the aloes, which are just past their peak but still quite beautiful.

Although most of the park looked good — the old restaurant/library building is under construction and I’m curious to see what develops there — I was dismayed by the condition of the rose garden. This area seemed to be deteriorating even before the lockdown started, but now it looks much worse. The water features have long ceased to function and most of the rose bushes appear close to death (at least to my untrained eye — please correct me if I’m wrong).

When I look back at my rose garden photos from ten years ago (there are a few in this post, although it’s not a totally fair comparison as the old pictures were taken in summer) and compare them to what’s there now, I feel very sad. I really hope the city will do something to preserve this piece of Joburg heritage.

The rose garden in Johannesburg Botanical Gardens
The rose garden as it appeared this morning.

Note that although the Botanical Gardens side of the park is usually closed to dogs, the guards are making an exception since that side has the only open entrance.Visitors are welcome to take their dogs through that gate and walk over to the dog park side.

It was a really special experience to walk around Emmarentia with so few people in it. I highly recommend making an early morning visit now, before the weather warms up and everyone figures out the park is open again.

Walking in Emmarentia Dam

34 Comments

  1. Albert

    I think the water features are maybe just shut for winter. I took some photos of them in February and they were fully functional then.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Oh wow, really? That’s good to know. I did quite a bit of running in there in Feb/March and they were always off — maybe just because it was early morning.

      Reply
      • dizzylexa

        The fountains seem to be put on, on weekends and not during the week. This was before lockdown and I’m sure eventually they will return.

        Reply
        • 2summers

          Yes, hopefully! Interesting about the weekends…That would definitely explain why I never see them on.

          Reply
      • Margaret Urban

        They may not be reinstated until the rains have a good start; Vaal Dam is low for the time of year and we may face water rationing if we aren’t careful. In The Wilds we have been told that the water features cannot be filled at this time.

        Reply
        • 2summers

          Yeah, I figured that’s why the fountains are off. I’m more concerned about the roses! But apparently they are also not waterwise so maybe the city has just decided to let them die. It’s very depressing though.

          Reply
  2. Catrina

    Beautiful photos, Heather! Empty parks are the best!
    I’m so glad you had the opportunity to get outdoors and experience nature again.
    The rose garden really looks dismal. I hope it somehow comes to life when summer comes.

    Reply
  3. dizzylexa

    I can’t wait to have a walk around here. I’m sure that the rose bushes will return to their former glory in summer. Love you frost pics.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks! I never get frost at my house so taking those pictures was a nice change of pace.

      Reply
  4. Kyra

    I’m glad you found your way in. We took the dogs there on Saturday afternoon – all four of us loved it 😊 Great to see a number of people, many with their pooches, taking advantage of the beautiful afternoon. Btw, when I was there in March, the water features in the rose garden were already dry.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yeah, that’s what I remember too. I do think something went wrong there before the lockdown started.

      Reply
  5. AutumnAshbough

    I love empty places. The quiet must have been marvelous.

    Hopefully the roses will be survive until the spring–mine never look quite that bad in the winter, but our climate doesn’t usually frost, either. Do they get any water?

    Reply
    • 2summers

      That’s the thing…I’m pretty sure no watering has happened. But someone else was telling me there has been discussion of getting rid of the roses, as they are really not appropriate for this dry African climate. So it could be they’re being ignored semi-intentionally. I guess time will tell — it just looks really depressing right now.

      Reply
      • AutumnAshbough

        Yeah, it’s really too dry, here, too, for the fifty-something rose bushes I inherited with this house. I should do more native plants. But they are so pretty.

        Reply
  6. Brenda R

    Rose gardens are a period piece and are more of an ideal than a reality and the curse of municipal gardens everywhere. They seldom look all that good. The bushes have no shape and when they are not in bloom they are kinda blah. When they are in bloom they are often muddled with too many varieties. Add to that, the enormous upkeep even apart from the water needs so, yes, I’d say let ‘er go. But no one is asking me! And, like most people, I do love the rose blooms. It’s the rose gardens that are often disappointing.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      The garden really looked amazing several years ago but it does seem quite hard to keep up. I’m just hoping the city doesn’t let it languish — if the roses aren’t working then they need to replace them with something else. It’s just too beautiful of a space to let go.

      Reply
  7. Ian

    The Orange road gate must open – it is the only entrance from Emmarentia and for the dog park

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I assume they want a single central point to take the temperature of everyone who comes in, and to get phone numbers for contract tracing. FYI, it really doesn’t take that long to walk through the main entrance back to the dog park. You just have to put your dogs on a leash for that part of the walk.

      Reply
  8. Nancy McDaniel

    beautiful photos. such clear blue skies – love the frost photos! Glad you made it. Have you been to The Wilds yet? Pablo looks happy to be back.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Haven’t been to the Wilds yet. But soon 🙂

      Reply
  9. Sandra Smit

    Rose’s aren’t that much work
    THEY SHOULD BE be pruned in this week and watered once a week and they will be lovely again!

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Sandra. I really hope they do that!

      Reply
  10. Lani

    The roses should be fine. I remember strolling around the Portland rose gardens and they looked like that during the ‘off season’. So glad you persevered and found the only entrance. It’s been like that over here too, multiple entries have been closed off so that they can check everyone through one place only. Glad you’re getting out with that camera again, Heather 🙂

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Lani. It’s an effort…Lately I just find it so much easier to default and stay home. But I know that’s not good for me. I’m planning at least one more outing this week 🙂

      Reply
      • Lani

        Good. We get into habits and slumps and COVID has been on a doozy on us all.

        Reply
  11. Jessicaraye

    Winter is typically not rose season unless your winters are warmer. Here in the states our rose/flora season is spring/summer with some blooms in fall depending on climate and early frost.
    I’m sure they will be back up and blooming by spring/summer.
    Love your pictures and seeing everywhere you are getting out and exploring in your town.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks so much, Jessica. I’ll report back on the roses in a couple of months 🙂

      Reply
  12. Shudu M

    I’ve never visited this place, it looks so peaceful. Are people allowed to have picnics?

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yes! It’s a very popular picnic spot.

      Reply
      • irma

        Do you know whether there is still a restaurant close to the entrance to the dam near the bridge.

        Reply
        • 2summers

          Hi Irma, the restaurant is currently closed — it’s under construction. I’m not sure when it’s scheduled to re-open.

          Reply
          • Lynne van Zyl

            Hi – lovely frost photos, and thanks for confirming that Emmetentia is finally open!! Do you perhaps have any idea as to whether there are any restrictions on takung in a picnic? Or would you recommend rather having a picnic at Delta park on a Sunday aftetnoon? Thank you! Lynne

          • 2summers

            Hi Lynne, no I don’t think there are any restrictions on picnicking — I think you can go for it 🙂

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