21 Jul 2023 | By Sun International

Forests of fantasy at the Lost City

Waterfall at The Palace | Photo by Sun International

The Palace of the Lost City’s manmade 25ha exotic and indigenous gardens – the largest of its kind on earth – are key elements of the iconic resort’s enduring mystique.

For more than three decades, The Palace of the Lost City, with its iconic towers and array of sculptures, murals, fresco ceilings, mosaics, decorative fountains and polished marble in 38 different hues, has dominated the singular Pilanesberg air.

Inspired by an ancient myth of an African kingdom that was lost to the jungle surrounding it, The Palace, set with the remnants of a volcanic crater that erupted one million years ago, encircled by four mountains, and with a game reserve on its doorstep, has enthralled luxury-lovers the world over since opening doors in December 1992.

Executed on a phenomenal scale in opulent detail, The Palace hotel is a magnificent centrepiece for the jungle that surrounds it. Iit is in fact these magnificent 25-hectare gardens that set the scene for the construction of the building, having been conceptualised in 1989 and completed in 1992 as a magical theme in the Lost City’s African fantasia.

The roots of a legend

Renowned landscape architect Patrick Watson, who had worked on the Mmabatho Sun and other Sun International properties, was the man tasked with realising livewire magnate Sol Kerzner’s vision and meeting his exacting demands.

“Casinos at the time were all about grass, palm trees, and  bougainvillaeas. The Palace gardens are a lot more complex and indigenous. We had teams working three shifts to achieve a project designed to last 1 000 years in just nine months. To be able to create an exotic fantasy forest and integrate with the surrounding environment was both satisfying and challenging,” said Watson, who had a hand in the naming of the resort, alerting Kerzner to the Lost City of the Kalahari historical mystery.

Produced at a cost of R25 million by a dedicated team of 440 gardeners and featuring  over 1.6-million plants, including 6 000 fully-grown trees, these painstakingly-laid-out gardens are a horticulturist’s dream. There is simply nothing like it on the continent.

Four primary micro-environments – a tropical rainforest, wetlands, a coastal vegetation area, and an arid bushveld section – border the Lost City Golf Course and merge with the natural indigenous landscape of the neighbouring Pilanesberg Game Reserve.  

Forest surrounding The Palace | Photo by Sun International

Putting the Kruger to shame

The rainforest area features a 40m-high jacaranda canopy with another level of trees underneath it, primarily red beeches and fluted milkwoods. Exotic orchids grow off trunks and branches and dangle from above, while the microclimate is intensified by numerous water channels, waterfalls and streams.

The jungle features 3 200 species of plants, shrubs and trees – more than twice that of the Kruger National Park –  and most of the species had never before been cultivated in South Africa. Horticulturalists sourced seeds from around the globe and rarities from 14 countries, including Australia, Zimbabwe, the Comoros, Mozambique and Madagascar.

As can be expected given the sheer diversity within the relatively small area, the jungle is a haven for birdlife. It is home to more than 190 bird species and its canopy teems with life, whether with starlings that have arrived from East Africa or India, robins taking a break from the Chinese winter, or parrots that were brought in from the Far East. Other birds making their home in these gardens include whistling ducks, bronze manakins, African paradise flycatchers, the national bird of South Africa, the blue crane, the African sacred ibis and the common waxbill.

Here are a few other facts that emphasise just why the Lost City gardens are so special:

○      10 000 orchids were brought in from China and Brazil and the Indonesian islands of Java and Borneo.

○      Endangered Aloe suzannae was sourced from southern Madagascar.

○      Flowers of 61 000 lilies light up the jungle, and towards the edges of the rainforest, Arabian euphorbias and Kalahari camel thorn trees make their presence felt.

○      To create a baobab forest, 380 mature trees were brought in, including some of the biggest specimens ever transplanted. Several are hundreds of years old and the largest weighs as much as 75 tons.

But for all the scintillating facts and figures, perhaps the most impressive feature of the gardens at the Lost City is that it represents a priceless project meant to last millennia, evolving with the times and lending fascinating perspectives to the opulence of The Palace. If you haven’t already, isn’t it time you experienced this verdant luxury for yourself?

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