I have always had a love for cacti and succulents. Perhaps because there are so many different species, because they often surprise you with the most beautiful little flowers or because they don’t need much looking after or water. But nothing I knew about succulents could prepare me for what I encountered at the Obesa Cactus Nursery in Graaff-Reinet. We were in town for a long weekend and had a couple of hours on our hands to explore, so when the receptionist at the guesthouse we were staying recommended Obesa I knew we were in for a prickly experience.
Coming around the corner it’s hard to miss Obesa. The succulents are all over… the yard… the building… the fence… along the pavement… It’s really hard to miss. So is the sign on the gate stating that American visitors aren’t welcome. Clearly the owner isn’t a Donald Trump fan. So if you’re a Yank looking to stop by, just don’t say much.
Obesa was started in 1970 as a hobby garden, grew up and then went into overdrive. Today it boasts over 7 000 species of plants, raises 35 000 odd plants every year, and stocks well over 2 million. Definitely not quite just a hobby anymore. Chatting to owner Johan he was telling me that most of their succulents are exported with the majority going to Europe. Obesa is basically made up of two sections. Firstly there is the garden and then the nursery.
It was in the garden where we kicked off our visit. Johan pointed us in the general direction and from there we followed the paths and signs. It’s in this garden where cactii growing up to around 8 meters high will take your breath away. Definitely not your typical succulent garden at home. I didn’t know where to point my camera. Problem is showing the scale of these plants, some of which is up to 45 years old already. I did try a couple of times to get Miggie to stand by them for scale but she was a bit careful for those big thorns reaching out at her.
The nursery itself is huge and if you’re a succulent lover then you better come with you wallet well stocked otherwise don’t even go there. With us it was a case of “I want one of those, and one of those, one of those and definitely one of those…” And anything you need to know, just ask Johan. He does come across as very direct and not everybody likes that, but the man knows his succulents. That is for sure.
Graaff-Reinet has so many treasures to discover ranging from the Valley of Desolation to the many museums in town, but do open up an hour or so in your itinerary and pop by Obesa. It’s perhaps not everybody’s thing, but if you like to garden, it will be worth it.