In the middle of the last century historians referred to the Pinelands area as being a sandy waste sporadically covered with scrub. When Bishop Colenso visited the Uitvlugt farm in 1880 he described it as a miserable place with inhospitable soil. The sand so closely resembled the Kalahari Desert that camels were trained there.
In the 1840s a gravel road was built from Maitland to Bellville, and in 1863 the railway line from Cape Town to Wellington was completed. The drift sands on the Cape Flats created a problem for both these developments. By 1845 the Roads Board needed to start stabilizing the drift sands to protect their roads. In France, cluster pines were being used to reclaim drift sands and sand dunes. This led to cluster pines being planted on the Uitvlugt farm in 1850. Besides the cluster pines, they also planted stone pines, Aleppo pines and Monterey pines. This planation was named the White Sands Plantation.
It was the only area in South Africa where foresting was conducted on a large scale by the cost-effective method of ploughing the land and scattering the seeds. These seeds were primarily sourced from a private botanical garden in Kloof Street.
Joseph Storr Lister took up the post of 1875 as Superintendent of Plantations at Uitvlugt. Having grown up in Cape Town, he returned after serving in the Indian Forest Service and was housed at the Uitvlugt farm. King Langalibalele of the Hlubi tribe had been imprisoned in the Manor House on the farm in the previous year. When Lister arrived, he was appointed as the King’s custodian. The Zulu King, Cetshwayo, was imprisoned in the adjoining privately owned farm of Oude Molen and he was placed under Lister’s care as well.
Lister believed that exotic timbers would reduce the demand on indigenous species, and he went about creating many plantations including the Tokai Arboretum in 1885 with 1555 trees representing 274 species. He eventually became the South African Chief Conservator of Forests and a monument was erected in his honour at Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth.
In 1880, Count de Vasselot de Regne was employed as the Superintendent of Woods and Forests in the Cape Colony. Unusually, he could not speak English. To assist him, Arthur Heywood, who could speak French and German, was employed as his clerk to translate his reports.
In 1882 the Forestry Department started selling saplings and seeds to the public from the plantation, as well as the timber itself. Through the efforts of Count de Regne and Heywood, the plantation was commercialised. The nursery was moved from Uitvlugt to a more suitable site at Tokai. They expanded the forest in 1884 by planting more cluster pines further East in the plantation, along with Port Jackson and other acacias introduced from Australia as wind breaks. At this time the name White Sands Plantation was finally changed to the Uitvlugt Forestry Station.
The trees were not only to stabilize the drift sand but were also needed to provide firewood for the expanding urban area and provide fuel for the locomotives on the Wellington line. However, due to the soil being clayey, consisting of Pre-Cape rock and Table Mountain Sandstone, coupled with low rainfall, the trees did not do as well as expected. Nevertheless In 1864 a further line of stone pines was planted in the area where Links Drive, the Town Hall and the Blue School now stand.
Heywood left in July 1887 to work in the office of the Prime Minister only to return the following year in July 1888 when appointed the District Forest Officer in the Western Conservancy. He was stationed at the Uitvlugt Forestry Station where he joined Lister. However, later that year Lister was transferred to King Williams Town as the Conservator of Forests for the Eastern Conservancy. By then both Langalibalele and Cetshwayo had both been released from Lister’s custody.
In 1893 Heywood petitioned and was granted permission to use a private road through the Raapenberg Farm owned by Prof Guthrie from the University of Cape Town, to get to the Forestry Station. This is still known as Raapenberg Road. Heywood left Uitvlugt for the second time when in 1895 he was transferred to Knysna as the Conservator of the Midlands Conservancy. By then the forest covered about thirty-two square kilometres.
The Homestead was renovated when Mr Ross became the Conservator of Forests and he lived with his family in the Homestead until 1931. As Pinelands grew, Mr Ross and his family took an active role in the new community. His daughter, Sheila, became the principal of the first school, Pinelands Primary, in 1926.
Around 1918 the Department of Forestry resolved that as the Uitvlugt Forestry Station was no longer economically viable, it would be transferred to the Department of Lands. However, Richard Stuttaford persuaded Parliament to hand over the land to Garden Cities for a Garden Cities housing development. Before handing it over, the Department of Forestry decided to remove all of the trees. Fortunately, Stuttaford intervened, and the trees remained. All title deeds contained a clause requiring permission to remove a tree.
The planting of trees in Pinelands continued with the annual Arbour Day celebration. The very first Arbour Day, organised by the Horticulture Society, took place on 31st August 1929 at Broadwalk. Scouts and cubs planted twenty-one trees. The planned sport event was rained out and postponed to the Saturday when three hundred children participated. Each child received a commemorative trowel plus sweets and balloons. The day ended with a “bioscope show”.
In 1953, Pinelands celebrated Arbour Day to coincide with the exact day of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. On June 2, 1953, all Pinelands children who shared their birthday with the Queen planted pines at Coronation Park. Sometimes other events have overshadowed the tree planting. For instance, in 1939 the Athletics Club broke fifteen of its own records at an Arbour Day celebration. The festive aspects have been lost but fortunately the significance of Arbour Day tree planting has not been lost.
To commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, trees were planted on Coronation Park by community leaders, with the following learners from schools in Pinelands: Garth Grobelaar from Pinelands North Primary School, Jill Zoutendyk with Pet-Ann Feldwick-Davis from Pinelands Primary and June Wells from Pinelands High.
In 1972 as part of Pinelands Golden Jubilee, inscribed trowels were handed out to all those who took part in tree planting at Howard Centre.
Planting of trees in Pinelands is not restricted to Arbour Days and the Municipality continues to plant trees on request .