After extensive research spanning more than a decade, the exact species of the first apple picked in the Company’s Garden 357 years ago is back in its original home.
A variant of the Witte Wijnappel (White Wine Apple), first picked in the Company’s Garden on 17 April 1662, was planted in the garden on 17 April over 350 later thanks to a partnership between Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, Hortgro and the Cape Town Heritage Trust. Tru-Cape celebrates 17 April as the official birth of the apple industry.
With the historic planting, the Company’s Garden has reclaimed a slice of its history: in all likelihood, the Witte Wijnappel was planted from seeds, with Jan van Riebeeck himself recording in his diary on 17 April that he had picked the first two Dutch apples at the Cape from a tree described as the Wijnappel.
“The replanting of the Witte Wijnappel is a historic moment in the South African fruit industry,” Tru-Cape Fruit marketing managing director Roelf Pienaar said in a statement.
Laura Robinson, director of the Cape Town Heritage Trust, shared Roelf’s sentiments adding: “This symbolic planting highlights the rich heritage of plants that were brought to the country by early colonists, as well as the development and growth of the fruit industry in South Africa.”
THE STORY OF A SEED
The Witte Wijn planting came about thanks to years of research into the history of apples by Tru-Cape quality assurance manager Henk Griessel and new-variety expert Buks Nel that included a search for a variant of the original apple tree in the Netherlands and culminated in the book, Apples in the Early Days at the Cape.
Once they had located the tree, the imported budwood, from which a new tree could be grown, was finally replanted last month in the VOC vegetable gardens in the Company’s Garden.
According to Laura, apart from the very diverse and unique fynbos biome in the Western Cape, the province also enjoys an ideal Mediterranean-type climate for the propagation of fruit trees and vines. As a result, “the Dutch were keen to bring in fruit and vegetables that they were familiar with and the Witte Wijnappel was the first apple cultivar that was successfully cultivated here in the Company’s Garden”.
She said that as a member of the Company’s Garden Steering Committee, the Trust was very enthusiastic when the team from Tru-Cape presented their concept of the replanting of the Witte Wijnappel in the Gardens.
“Plants and animals are an important part of our heritage and should be celebrated and protected just as other heritage assets are, and the Trust actively supports and encourages projects of this nature. It was also a pleasure to be able to host the function at which the Witte Wijnappel was finally planted.”
Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) was among the invited guest at the replanting ceremony. He remarked that the event was special and “was all about the uniqueness of the project and the rich history of such an important product that we now produce in abundance”. He added: “Hopefully in a few years’ time, we will be able to sample the original apple that was planted in the late 1600s.”
In his 2018 editorial in the CCID’s quarterly newspaper City Views, Tasso touched on the importance of embracing heritage and celebrating it. And the replanting of the Witte Wijnappel speaks to this.
“When you have a traditional downtown like Cape Town that’s been around as long as this one has, history and heritage – in terms of its buildings and public squares – embody our city’s past and visual identity. We have this, and what we can do as Capetonians is to bring that heritage to the forefront so that it touches and engages every local or visitor that comes into contact with it and leaves them with the impression that our downtown is unique and special in a South African or even an international scenario. It starts with us not taking for granted what we have and making an effort to explore what’s around us,” he wrote.
Kate Crane Briggs, the founding director of Culture Connect SA, South Africa’s only art and design tour specialist offering both public and private tours, also commended the initiative saying it added to the rich heritage of the Central City.
“I was only asked the other day what the VOC planted and all I could point to was the old pear tree. The replanting of the apple tree is exciting and good because of the history of this place but it also encourages us all to grow our own food, and appreciate the trees and plants around us, especially in the cities where they are so needed because of pollution and lack of nature.”
To have a look at the Witte Wijnappel, visit the Company’s Garden at 15 Queen Victoria Street. According to Laura, visitors can see it positioned at the north end of the leiwatervoor or water furrow that runs through the garden. There is also an interpretive sign telling visitors a little about the tree and its significance.
IMAGES: Heritage Shop at the Company’s Garden