That the Chelsea Flower Show (CFS) is also celebrating its Centenary is serendipitous and one that will add additional reasons for visitors to enjoy a show that has become the “Olympics” of Flower Shows.
For 38 years South Africa has been exhibiting at this prestigious event and this is the 20th year that designers David Davidson and Raymond Hudson have been presenting innovative, award winning exhibits. Hopes are high that yet another gold medal will be added to the 32 already won over the years.
A visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is high on the list of priorities for both tourists and locals alike. The exhibit will invite visitors to “Come into the garden” and will offer a glimpse of some of the more unusual aspects of this South African treasure.
Anyone who has experienced Kirstenbosch would find it hard to believe that just 100 years ago the beautiful walkways that we meander along, the exceptional displays and the natural flow of this Garden, was a neglected, overgrown farm with a ruined homestead, hordes of pigs, thickets of weeds and extensive plantations of alien plants. The triumph that is Kirstenbosch is due to the vision of its founders and curators.
Visitors to the Chelsea Flower Show will enjoy a snapshot of South Africa’s unique botanical heritage - an invitation to explore a fascinating World Heritage site. Endeavoring to create a stunning, sensory walk where visitors can experience the beauty and tranquility of being enveloped in the heart of the Garden – the display is an enclosed reconstruction of the Central Garden and Dell – the oldest and most beautiful parts of the Garden.
The circular, walk-through exhibit features the Dell and Cycad Amphitheatre on one side, and the Protea Garden and mountain skyline on the other. The overhead sky canopy enhances the sense of quietude that enfolds the Garden.
The external walls of the exhibit feature the history of the establishment and development of the Garden, and the two external corner displays feature another of the Garden’s main seasonal attractions – the Mathews Rockery ¬– on one side, and a specimen display of Kirstenbosch Centenarian plants on the other.
The development of Kirstenbosch began in 1913 in the natural amphitheatre embracing the Dell, in the heart of the Garden. The paths and steps leading up from the Dell were paved and cobbled in local stone by Kirstenbosch stonemasons. By 1916 all but two of the species of cycads found in South Africa (at that time) had been planted and this Living Collection – the first to be established at Kirstenbosch – today contains 37 of the ±40 southern African cycad species and remains a world-class, living gene-bank of these ancient and remarkable plants.
The Dell was also one of the earliest developments in Kirstenbosch. Colonel Bird’s Bath was built in approximately 1811 by Colonel Christopher Bird, Deputy Colonial Secretary. He built this bird-shaped pool (a play on his name) to collect and purify the spring water, before being piped to the house. It is built of Batavian bricks and fed by four crystal-clear, ice-cold perennial springs. Then, as now, this is the discreet focal point of the Garden, from which all else radiates.
At every Chelsea Flower Show visitors flock to see the diverse and beautiful array of indigenous plants that have made our exhibit a winner for so many years. One of the highlights of the exhibit will be the “Centenarians” - our oldest and most distinguished residents. These plants have been growing at Kirstenbosch for I00 years or more, or were introduced during the first five years, 1913-1917, and are still here today. Not all of the specimens are 100 years old. Some are cuttings, offsets or seedlings of the original plants and have been propagated and grown at Kirstenbosch over the past I00 years. The ever-popular Protea family will provide a colourful and always fascinating display against the iconic Table Mountain backdrop.
Plants are sourced from all over the country making this a combined effort from both farmers and landscapers who take pride in participating at this prestigious event. Community projects are also represented to ensure that local programmes benefit from their inclusion.
Tourism is always a major focus of our exhibit at this prestigious show and many visitors to the Chelsea Flower Show have been inspired to visit South Africa – thus providing much needed jobs. With this exhibit, the traveller will be enthralled by the history – and its many links with the United Kingdom – that have made this Garden world-renowned.
As with all major projects sponsorship is of paramount importance and for the third year the South African Gold Coin Exchange is a sponsor of the exhibit, enabling the team to create what is hoped will be yet another award-winning exhibit.
Winning a 33rd gold medal is the goal and is the synergy that Chairman of the SA Gold Coin Exchange and the Scoin shops, Alan Demby, enjoys.
“As a sponsor for the last three years we have seen the team win RHS gold medals annually. The Mandela’s Gold Strelitzia at Kirstenbosch has been the inspiration for a limited edition Gold Mandela medallion. This features the portrait of Mandela on the obverse and the Strelitzia on the reverse. Our commitment and sponsorship to the Kirstenbosch attempt to win even more gold medals is reinforced with this medallion and in this, the Centenary year, we see even more synergies with our coin ranges.” he said.
Dr Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) will be there to cheer the team on. “To celebrate the Centenary of Kirstenbosch and to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show Centenary is a wonderful opportunity to show the value that we place on our botanical heritage. Biodiversity is our natural capital – it is the extraordinary variety of life, such as plants, animals and insects that are the foundation of ecosystems that provide people with sustainable benefits. From ecosystems we derive essential goods and services, such as food, water grazing, pollination, fish and medicines. Our ecological infrastructure is an extremely valuable national asset, and we embrace the opportunity Chelsea affords us to highlight this”.
Says David Davidson, “Our experience at Chelsea over the years has been exhilarating, and being part of two Centenaries is an added bonus. This exhibit shows the world the importance we place on our natural heritage and history, and Kirstenbosch’s ‘coming-of-age’ gives the traveller yet another reason to visit South Africa and come into OUR Garden.”
The good news for South Africans and visitors to our country is that the exhibit will be recreated at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town from 31 August until 24 September. Bringing the exhibit to this destination was an inspired move and the V&A Waterfront is proud that they have enabled this Centenary year exhibit to be enjoyed by visitors and residents alike.
For the tenth consecutive year, the exhibit will also be displayed at Garden World in Johannesburg as part of their annual Spring Festival, which opens on 25 July. This show runs through August.
The organizers of the East Coast Radio House and Garden Show in Durban are also very much hoping to feature the Chelsea exhibit at their show from the 29 June to 8 July, subject to funding being available.
For the dedicated team who work hard to put the exhibit together, this Centenary year has special significance. The team are all from different parts of the Kirstenbosch “family”. For Communications Officer Andrew Jacobs this is a dream come true. His father worked on the estate and Andrew and his brothers have been working at the Garden all their lives – true “Kirstenboschers”. Edgar van Gusling, who celebrated 45 years of service earlier in the year, is the principal foreman on the Estate and one of his jobs has been to oversee the freighting of the precious cargo for the Chelsea Flower Show – this year he will be there to receive it! Add to that the dedication of team coordinator, Alison Pekeur and senior horticulturist Cherise Viljoen and the quiet strength of project manager Sarah Struys, Kirstenbosch Events Manager, and it is easy to understand the ongoing successes of the exhibit. Enthusiastic volunteers from South Africa make their way to London to assist making the exhibit a truly passionate South African project.