Keith Edward Kirsten
For decades a household name across Southern Africa, this born and raised Durbanite needs no introduction. Often called "South Africa's favourite gardener", Keith Kirsten has informed, entertained and inspired gardening enthusiasts for more than 30 years through
In the early 70’s Keith studied for a Diploma in Horticulture in Pretoria whilst doing his practical at the Durban Parks, Recreation and Beaches Department and in 1973-1976 he took a vacation job at Lion Bridge Milling where the owner (who also owned Eckard’s Nursery, Pretoria North) gave him a Saturday morning job. This is where he learnt more about plants and where he got a taste for commercial horticulture.
In 1978 Keith took a leap of faith, borrowed R17 000 and together with two friends started the first “Keith Kirsten” in Waterkloof, Pretoria. Keith Kirsten’s Nurseries and Garden Centres sprang across Gauteng and soon there were 5 Centres. Having decided to broaden his horizons beyond retail, Kirsten agreed to a management buyout of his Garden Centre chain in March 2001.
Keith has since channelled his energies through Keith Kirsten Horticulture International (Pty) Ltd (KKHI), a leading specialist horticultural company founded in 1999 which offers various horticultural services and tours with the main focus currently being new plant development and horticultural and landscape Project Management locally and abroad.
Keith has long been recognized as one of South Africa's most effective marketers, winning the IMM Marketing Award of the Year (1989) and Prisa's coveted Communicator of the Year (1997).
A talented designer, Keith's “South African National Garden” exhibition at the Stuttgart IGA show in 1993 won a gold medal, while his Chelsea Flower Show stand in the same year, also took gold. Unbeknown to many is that Keith’s organization was responsible for the smooth transition of the SA National Exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1993/94 when the government asked him to ensure that the show was staged that year in co-operation with SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute) and it has successfully continued since then under the design leadership of Raymond Hudson and David Davidson.
As a company MD before the age of 34, Keith joined the global Young Presidents Association (YPO) to interchange ideas and views with the world's next generation of business leaders, and was presented the YPO's 'Best of the Best' award in 1998. He has since moved on to the World President's Organization (WPO), where he remains active.
Keith served several times as President of the South African Nursery Association (SANA), won the SANA Gold Medal for services to the Association and the garden and nursery industry of South Africa in 1990/91 and was the first National Chairman of the Green Industries Council. Keith remains the Chairman for the SANA Bursary Fund, which allows needy students to be able to study horticulture.
Always the community and environmental activist, Keith has raised millions for the sick and needy as well as playing key roles in worthy organisations such as:
Talk to Keith Kirsten today and he is as emphatic as ever, "I am an outrageous Africa optimist. Let us roll up our sleeves, clean up the litter, plant trees & flowers, while we get the African Renaissance to work." Which doubtlessly explains why Keith is a passionate contributor to the "Proudly South African" campaign.
Keith’s love for sporting has seen him run the Comrades Marathon four times; paddling the Dusi in 2000 and cycling his 10th Cape Argus this year. He now plans to cycle the 3-day Wine to Whales Endurance Race in Cape Town in November 2011.
Keith lives and operates his business from River Lodge Farm which is situated on the banks of the Crocodile River, just north of Johannesburg near the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Here he enjoys any spare time he has with family, friends and his 3 dogs, “Fuchsia, Namib & Saskia”. His garden and farm is a work in progress…restoring River Lodge to its origins as it was formally a Sheep Farm.