Jan FE Celliers Park, Pretoria

Jan FE Celliers Park, or Proteapark

Today the park is serviced by three horticulturalists (most other parks have only two) and a ‘functional head’, who also work at other parks in the Central West section of Tshwane Municipality within which this one falls, and 10 - 15 gardeners. Some concessions have had to be made for security concerns (money to fence it off, there isn't, fortunately), like removing shrubby undergrowth under a central clump of thorn trees, including the apiesdoring or monkey thorn, Acacia galpinii. My introduction to how spectacular it is in flower (10cm long spikes, red before it opens to creamy yellow, on a tree totally bare of foliage), was here in Proteapark. Thereafter I saw it everywhere in Pretoria in beautiful combination with purple jacaranda. Monkey thorns occur in an odd pattern sprawling across our northwest, western Zim and eastern Botswana, up to Zambia and outwards to the fabled Eastern Highlands.

I often look at a young Wild Pride-of-India, or Transvaal Privet, or Galpinia transvaalica growing not far from where I live, and thought I knew it - but I hadn't yet seen the groups of mature, multi-stemmed trees in full bloom in the park. It reminds strongly of the much more well-known Lagerstroemia Pride-of-India (Crêpe Myrtle), except that the panicles of flowers are white. Not mentioned by either Una or Sima, nor by Eve Palmer in her Under the wild olive about her Pretoria garden, but Jo Onderstall (expert of Lowveld flora) calls it ‘‘one of our best flowering shrubs and an excellent garden plant”.

Note how - and I didn't plan it - both Acacia galpinii and Galpinia transvaalica commemorate Ernest Edward Galpin. He was a banker and amateur botanist who left a herbarium of 16 000 specimens upon his death aged either 87 or 83 or 58, depending on all the birth dates for him, in 1941.

See, that is what this park does: it introduces one intimately to plants, grown with sufficient space to show off their character. There seems to be something sweet about the terrain, despite a shallow rock bank running crosswise through the middle of the park. And it is a place to see dogs.

So I could mention someone from the parks division telling me a few years ago, off-handedly, that a body, shot through the head, was found on a path here one morning. Some visitors to the park on weekday mornings prefer to picnic on the cycad and tree aloe hillock right above the parking area. But on the whole, on a scale of insecurity (and there is such a scale), this one is safely tucked into suburbia. I'm not one to summarily deride suburbia. It has its place.