The land on which the garden is situated was once part of the farm Braamfontein, which dated back to 1853.In 1886, a farmer called Louw Geldenhuys bought a portion of Braamfontein Farm and named it after Emmarentia, the woman he married in 1887.Some 3 000 packets of seeds are exchanged each year, many of which are rare and endangered, thus perhaps being preserved from extinction, far from their native habitat.
The 81-hectare Botanical Garden form one of Johannesburg’s vital green lungs.
The land for the gardens was set aside in 1969 – at the time it was a sports field and golf driving range consisting of bare veld and no trees.
In all, 42 families of plants are incorporated into the design based on suitable sites for the majority of species within the families.
The families, comprising South African and exotic species of trees, are the framework around which shrubs and perennials are added to complete both the aesthetic and botanical picture.
At the end of the Anglo Boer War, in 1902, many landless farmers returned home, and Geldenhuys offered them employment to build the 7,5ha Emmarentia Dam.
Great blocks of stone were brought down from the nearby Melville Koppies, which were then fitted together to construct the dam wall.
To date, over 56 000 trees have been planted, a good proportion of which serve as nurse trees protecting the more desirable plants from wind, frost, the baking sun and designations.
Its trees include ones that have been grown from seed through the garden's global exchange with other botanical institutions.
The park is fenced and gates at all the entrances are staffed by security guards.