Kirstenbosch wins again at Chelsea

19 May 2015

Kirstenbosch has yet more silverware to add to its trophy cabinet – the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi-Kirstenbosch) received Silver Gilt for its 40th exhibit at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show, to the delight of designers David Davidson and Ray Hudson and the team of Sanbi staff and volunteers who worked tirelessly to achieve the result.

The annual Chelsea Flower Show takes place in London between 19 and 23 May. Sanbi-Kirstenbosch is participating for the 40th time.

There were some tense moments when it looked as if the stand might not be completed in the allotted time, said Sanbi-Kirstenbosch. On Sunday morning, 18 May, with hours to go before the cut off time, only part of the consignment had been released from customs, and then not the feature plants.

But it was a story of camaraderie once it became clear that the whole consignment was not going to get there. Volunteer Jenny Badenhorst, a landscaper from Johannesburg, and Jo Lankester walked the show to see who had the appropriate plants and with warmth and generosity other exhibitors rallied around offering whatever was required to fill the gaps.

A celebration of 40 years

While still calling the exhibit “a celebration of 40 years” and despite not being able to showcase the feature plants, the generosity of the other exhibitors made up for some of the disappointment.

Among others, plants were donated by Kientzler in Germany, as well as Prince Harry’s Lesotho garden, which donated kniphofias and aloes; Australia donated proteas, aloes, polygala and the use of its forklift to assist; and France donated juncea and grasses.

“It was a race against time,” said Davidson. “We advised the judges of our predicament and these factors were taken into account when judging.”

When Monday morning dawned, the judges made their way around the more than 550 stands that made up the show. It was an onerous task selecting and debating the awards and there was no hint as to what the various exhibitors had achieved. Then it was celebrity time as London’s rich and famous wandered the show, stopping here and there for a word and a photograph. Finally, it was time for Queen Elizabeth and her entourage to tour the show before the preview day ended.

It was not until Tuesday morning (May 19) – opening day – that the awards were revealed. This is the scene every year for the team that puts together the Sanbi- Kirstenbosch exhibit at this “Olympics” of flower shows. And, in a year in which Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden has won several major awards, it was with great joy and jubilation that the garden’s 40th Chelsea entry notched up a Silver Gilt – the same as it achieved in 2014.

Plants South Africa gave the world

This year’s display includes a retrospective tableau of memorable exhibits, as well as a display of “Plants South Africa Gave the World” and a named flower specimen display. A special tribute to the work of British floral designer Pam Simcock, who was responsible for the design and creation of the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibits staged at Chelsea on behalf of the South African government for the first 18 years of its participation in the show, was included.

It was a treasure trove of information and colour and a trip down memory lane for those who are regular visitors and contributors to the show.

Sanbi chief executive officer Tanya Abrahamse had high praise for the team. “Hearty congratulations!” she said. “A Silver Gilt is a fitting tribute to the design skill and the dedicated work of the team that put this exhibit together. The opportunity to showcase different aspects of our rich and unique biodiversity on this international platform is one that we value highly.

“Winning this Silver Gilt is success not only for Kirstenbosch and Sanbi but for the country as a whole. Many visitors to South Africa travel as a result of seeing our exhibit at Chelsea and we welcome the opportunity of showing off our beautiful country through its 10 botanical gardens.”

Popular with visitors

A popular destination, the Sanbi-Kirstenbosch stand attracts many of the more than 150 000 visitors to the Chelsea Flower Show and provides a showcase for the country.

Once again, the important role that botanical gardens play in contributing to the country’s tourism statistics is underscored. As a snapshot to the country’s botanical heritage, it is these gardens coupled with the wide variety of unusual attractions that bring many visitors to the country.

The Kirstenbosch Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, which was declared the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at Design Indaba Expo 2015, is one such attraction that has increased the numbers of visitors to the gardens.

“This year’s exhibit showed themes and iconic elements from seven earlier gold award exhibits, recreated to commemorate this special anniversary. We are showing the botanical and cultural diversity of a range of geographic locations, botanical gardens and biomes of South Africa as well as the section on Plants South Africa Gave the World,” explained Davidson.

“We are delighted that this show of diversity has achieved a Silver Gilt and that the team has been reward for all their hard work.”

Source: South African National Biodiversity Institute