Fredo has not visited Cape Town’s Company Gardens for many a year. A couple of years ago, he had a very good reason to go there – a tree planting involving a Saffron pear tree which has been developed from what is generally accepted as the oldest fruit tree in South Africa.

The old Saffron was planted in the Company Gardens in the time of Jan van Riebeeck, who founded the refreshment station at the Cape way back in 1652. That means that the old Saffron is around 360 years old!

Henk Griessel, from fruit company Tru-Cape Marketing, who helped to develop the new tree, says it is amazing that the old Saffron has survived so long. It virtually outlived 12 generations of people! Fredo thinks the old saying amongst the fruit growers of the Cape, namely that you ‘plant pears for your heirs’ is actually true. Not that they have picked any fruit from this old tree for many a year – at least the birds in the Company Gardens are feasting on the pears once they are ripe in the summer.

However, the old tree was nearing its end and that is why the powers that be decided that it was important to save its genetic material and also to plant a new tree at the same spot to ensure that the Saffron continues to remain in the Company Gardens.

This is highly commendable, argues Fredo, because in the times we are living in there are not many people that want to talk about our heritage anymore. Granted, we are speaking about a pear tree, but given the fact that everything in our country which is wrong is blamed on the colonial era, there is now almost daily controversy about symbols of the past.

A fruit heritage preserved

Fredo was pleased to note that Tru-Cape was involved. They have increasingly in recent years been the leaders in efforts to protect our fruit heritage in South Africa. Henk and colleague Buks Nel is playing a leading role in this. It is also pleasing to see that old friend, Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen of Oak Valley Estate in Elgin, was also involved. A heritage garden has been planted at Oak Valley – which also demonstrates the character of the people in the fruit industry. Anthony is a descendant of one of the oldest fruit farming families in our country and is at the forefront of maintaining what is good from the past and building a new future for those who will follow in the years to come.

For Fredo it was therefore a special occasion to be invited by Tru-Cape to attend this ceremony. It was a lovely spring morning and above us Table Mountain was standing guard and witnessing this special ceremony. Roelf Pienaar, Managing Director of Tru-Cape, and Alderman Belinda Walker from the Cape Town City Council were there to participate. Two other, albeit more modern fruit trees, were also planted in the vegetable garden – a Golden Delicious apple and a Bon Chretien pear. Fredo hopes they will also grow as old as the old Saffron.

Standing there with Roelf Pienaar and looking at this wonderful garden – and the magnificent view towards the mountain – we could not help wondering what things looked like on that day when the noble old Saffron pear (Pyris communis) was planted by master gardener, Hendrick Boom.

Afterwards Fredo wandered through the gardens. As a young journalist who arrived in the big city from the country-side back in the early 1970’s, he remembers how on the first day of the winter rains he would put on his wind sheeter jacket and walk in the rain down the Government Avenue to drink a coffee in the heart of the city. It was a walk past the old pear tree and the oaks, the water well dating back to those early days and past the magnificent St George’s Cathedral.

Fredo believes that it was the sweet mountain water, which also nourished the early settlers, which has kept the old lady going for so long. The water which comes with the winter rains is filtered through Table Mountain’s fynbos down towards the sea, towards the well where the master gardener must have quenched his thirst after planting that tree. In those days the summers were also hot – when the first trees and vegetables were planted. Fredo believes that the old Saffron must have dug deep into the earth with her roots to get at that water – and that after more than 350 years she has become as African as Africa can be – an important part of our heritage.