Station-Master Joseph Archer creates a winning garden in 1890

At the turn of the last century, Matjiesfontein’s station had a prize winning rock garden of Karoo plants. It repeatedly won the South African Railways prize for the best station garden in the country. Its creator, Joseph Archer, came to the Cape in 1890 and joined the Railways, working as a foreman. He was later promoted to station master and worked at several places before moving to Matjiesfontein. Joseph loved the Karoo and at Matjiesfontein station developed a rock garden to show off its plants. Time and time again this garden won the award for the best station garden in South Africa, says historic researcher Professor Cornelis Plug. The garden was enjoyed by train and road travellers alike. Many motoring along the hot, dry, dusty, Cape to Cairo route through the Karoo, stopped at Matjiesfontein to see it.

In 1925, Joseph was appointed the first curator of the Karoo Garden at Whitehill station, about five kilometers from Matjiesfontein. It became a branch of the National Botanic Gardens at Kirstenbosch. With Prof. R.H. Compton, the Director of Kirstenbosch, Archer undertook several collecting trips into the Karoo, the north-western parts of the Cape Province and Namibia, bringing together a large and representative collection of succulents and other plants from these arid regions. He also successfully cultivated many of these plants at Whitehill. He retired as curator in 1939, after which the garden was moved to Worcester. Archer did much to promote the popularity of succulent cultivation in South Africa, and several plant species were named in his honour.

© Rose’s Roundup, vol. 2, no. 76, January 2010

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