Words: Betsie Loock-Van der Merwe | Images: Rene Walker & Shutterstock

Tens of thousands of blue jacaranda trees (jacaranda mimosifolia) will once again turn Pretoria’s tree-lined streets purple when they start flowering soon. Although not indigenous to South Africa, and declared category 3 invaders in 2001, these trees are deeply rooted in the city’s history, culture and the hearts of its people. Some of the beautiful streets tell the tale.

Double the spectacle

Although it has a length of only 1,7km, Government Avenue is one of the most famed jacaranda streets. This road connects Bryntirion Estate which incorporates the president of South Africa’s residence with the official seat of the South African government, the imposing Union Buildings, in northern Arcadia. Here it winds down Meintjieskop around the presidential offices, and ends next to the beautiful terraced gardens with its many historical monuments and statues.

Government Street is the only street in the area having a double row of jacaranda trees planted on each sidewalk. These, so is said, were initially planted in double rows to provide double the shade for government officials walking to the Union Buildings from their homes.

White splendour

The Union Buildings also constitute the highest point in Pretoria providing breath-taking cityscapes over the metropolis with its masses – estimated at between 60,000 to 70,000 – of jacaranda trees.

This landmark was designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker who was honoured by naming a street in the posh suburb of Groenkloof after him. Herbert Baker Street is also famous for another reason. Tourists and photographers annually flock to this street in summer hoping to get some good sight and shots of the splendour created by the rare white jacarandas in bloom. It’s believed that the about 100 trees were imported from Peru in 1962 by Harry Bruins-Lich, then Pretoria’s director of public parks.

The scenic suburb of Groenkloof against the northern foothills of Klapperkop, today boasts beautiful, stylish, high-end properties and is a prime location connected via Julius Jeppe Road in Waterkloof to Dely Road, which links the Old East (west of the N1) to the New East (east of the N1).

Dely Road has some beautiful jacaranda trees of its own and runs through the brand-new and trendy Hazeldean Node where it passes the lovely Pretoria Country Club. On the Old East side where it crosses Justice Mahomed Street, Dely Road becomes Brooklyn Road.

Three Ms

Brooklyn Road leads to the upmarket suburb of Brooklyn which is associated with an undue abundance of jacaranda trees. The three parallel-running streets – Marais, Mackenzie and Murray – are striking examples of where the canopies of these huge jacarandas create picturesque purple tunnels over the streets. This residential area is quiet and shady with lovely stately old homes dating back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Brooklyn is neighbouring the suburb of Hatfield which is home to the University of Pretoria. Resident Cotie Chieppa points out that, for students, jacaranda bloom time is usually associated with exam time. “One of the most widely-known beliefs among students is that if a jacaranda blossom falls on your head, you will pass the exam.” Personally she, like thousands of Pretorians, has nostalgic and romantic memories associated with the purple flowers. “It was the 60s … the Afrikaans girl and the Italian troubadour singing Italian love songs to me when we were walking under the purple haze of the flowering jacarandas…”

Tradition & culture

From Tuks via Lynnwood Road in a western direction one turns right into Kirkness Street where another one of the Blue City’s landmarks, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, is towering on the right just before Kirkness Street becomes Eastwood Street – another beautiful jacaranda-lined street.

There’s a claim that the biggest and oldest jacaranda tree in the city can be found near the corner of Eastwood and Stanza Bopape streets. It’s generally believed that the first “official” trees in the city that the municipality planted, date back to about 1906.

Considering that the existing jacarandas may not be replaced when their lifespan of approximately 200 years expires, this phenomenon will disappear in generations to come. “In some way, it’s a pity,” says resident Gwen Swart. “It is our emblem, our culture. Some international tourists plan their visits to the country around October when the Blue City and Namaqualand are flowering.”

On Meintjieskop, Eastwood Street changes into Tom Jenkins Street which takes motorists over the leafy hill to The Moot area. This cluster of suburbs dating back to the late 19th century, received its fair share of the “Pretoria trees”. In Villieria, Pierneef Street was named after the talented South African artist Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef. The street is a good example of the peace and tranquillity that the many jacarandas bring to the area. In Pierneef Street, they provide shade to Laerskool Pierneef and the Pierneefteater, as well as other well-known places full of character like a number of antique shops and corner cafes full of character and typical of a nostalgic era.

The magical Magalies

From Villieria one heads for Steve Biko Road north. This road passes Hoërskool Wonderboom and where it enters the Wonderboom Neck in the Magaliesberg, a beautiful view of the area northeast to the Magaliesberg unfolds. Rooftops are barely visible under thousands of jacaranda treetops. The road descends down the northern slopes of the mountain and links up to the main road of Sefako Makgatho (previously known as Zambezi Road).

Alongside Sefako Makgatho Drive nestle the suburbs of Annlin, Wonderboom, Sinoville, Magalieskruin and Montana. This familiar main road provides easy access to the N1 and N4 highways and is also renowned for its many new and used vehicle traders and small businesses located in its service road in the shade of many jacarandas.

This area is particularly popular for its favourable climate, beautiful vegetation and enjoyable countryside look and feel.

“I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld
Nelson Mandela at The Union Buildings during his inauguration speech on 10 May 1994

Eat:

  • Ristorante Grissini, 131 on Herbert Baker Boutique Hotel: fresh ingredients, good wine and great service
  • Eastwoods Tavern, Eastwood Street: lively pub with a menu of grills and pizzas
  • Burger Bistro Pierneef, Pierneef Street: fresh ingredients, homemade patties, hand-cut chips
  • Hogshead, Dely Road: smokehouse pub specialising in craft beer, burgers and ribs
  • Toureiro’s House of Prawns, Sefako Makgatho Drive: Portuguese and Mediterranean fare

Shop:

  • Groenkloof Shopping Centre
  • Eastwood Village
  • Kolonnade Shopping Centre
  • Kolonnade Retail Park
  • Brooklyn Mall
  • Waverley Plaza

See:

  • Venning Park, Eastwood Street
  • Union Buildings, Government Avenue
  • University of Pretoria Museums, Lynnwood Road
  • Jan Cilliers Park, Groenkloof
  • Groenkloof Nature Reserve