Upper Liesbeek River Garden

The area within the confines of the Upper Liesbeek River Garden (ULRG) is undoubtedly the most beautiful and non-impacted section of the Liesbeek.  It is a ‘little piece of paradise’ where children can play and hunt for tadpoles or one can simply enjoy the peaceful environment.

The protection of the Liesbeek and its biodiversity is of utmost importance.  It is home to indigenous fish (the Galaxia), frogs, tadpoles, crabs and African black ducks.

Prior to 2004 the ULRG area was an alien-infested wasteland. It has taken many years of hard work to remove the aliens, stabilise the steep banks, and make stepped paths and a boardwalk for easy access. More than 250 indigenous trees and a vast number of different species of indigenous water-wise plants have been planted. Irrigation extraction from the river was halted when water restrictions were introduced in 2017, and it is very comforting to witness that the water-wise planting has been a success.

The ULRG is presently funded almost exclusively by donations to pay for wages and running expenses. Individual donors include many residents of Bishopscourt Village and Fernwood, the two neighbourhoods adjacent to the Upper Liesbeek, as well as casual visitors. The Nussbaum Foundation has been a generous supporter since 2011. Corporate donors since 2021 include Claremont Holdings (Audi and VW Claremont) and The Spirit Foundation.

Garden Manager Neptha Phiri and horticulturist Miranda Alexander comprise the river team, with Bishopscourt Village resident Dr Joan Parker as the volunteer coordinator. Previous staff who made significant contributions include Thembi Macata (Garden Manager for 3 years up to May 2022), and Matthews Moetsi who was the ULRG gardener from its 2004 inception until he passed away in August 2018.

The river team strives to manage and maintain the ULRG to the highest standard, with the focus being rehabilitation and conservation of the area for the enjoyment of the public and for future generations.  Urban rivers are under threat and everyone must endeavour to preserve and manage rivers and the environment associated with them. For too long many of us have neglected to appreciate the valuable role that rivers play in our daily lives. We hope to change this attitude by show-casing what can be done by a dedicated river team and volunteers – we all can make a difference.

See the Gallery for a selection of photographs of the development of the area: the River Project’s early days 2004-2005, the severe flooding experienced on 26 July 2007, and more recent photographs.

Plants in the Upper Liesbeek River Garden

Visitors to the Upper Liesbeek River Garden have an array of flowering plants to look out for throughout the year. Although our list is incomplete, find out what plants to look for and when.

Awards and special events

Thembi with her winner’s certificate at the 2019 Futurescape Africa Trade Show
  • October 2019: Thembi Macata was one of the winners in the Faces of the Future campaign which highlights exciting work being done in the realm of landscaping, horticulture, urban planning etc. Entrants had to be 30 years of age or under on 1 January 2019; there were more than 120 applicants and 19 winners.
  • November 2014: Joan Parker received Civic Honours from the City Council ‘in recognition of service to the community and the care and well being of others in the City of Cape Town’ for her work on the River Garden.
  • October 2013: WESSA Western Cape Regional Award in the Community Award Category
  • June 2010: Merit award from Mail and Guardian Greening the Future
  • In March 2007 the Executive Mayor, Helen Zille, officially opened the 65-metre wheelchair access path to the riverine garden.
  • Pam Golding Properties/Home Loans from ABSA Gardens of Pride Competition, under the auspices of the SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Western Cape region: a special recognition award (2005); winner in the Corporate Garden Category (November 2006).
  • Cape Times/Caltex Environmental award: a commendation certificate for outstanding achievement in the Category ‘Architecture and Built Environment’ (November 2005).

The Liesbeek

The Liesbeek’s name is thought to be derived from old Dutch words for reeds or water plants (lies) and stream (beecq, or beeck). The Liesbeek starts where the Protea and Window streams join together in the Boschenheuvel Arboretum, and is 9 kms long. The Protea stream is formed in Kirstenbosch Gardens by the coming together of the Vaalkat, Nursery and Skeleton streams which arise on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain.

Other mountain streams which drain the eastern slopes of Table Mountain include the Loeriebos, Fernwood, Hiddingh and Newlands streams. The Liesbeek is the oldest urbanised river in South Africa. Canalised along most of its length (approx 70%), It flows through Newlands, Rondebosch, Rosebank and Observatory until it joins the Black River, which empties into Table Bay.