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Chelsea Flower Show: It’s gold again for SA

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South Africa celebrated the country’s 37th gold medal win for the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibit at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show in London

South Africa’s exhibit, Mountains of Abundance, won a gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2019 Chelsea Flower Show in London on Tuesday. 

This brings the Kirstenbosch-South Africa gold medal tally to 37 in 44 years at the prestigious flower show.

Celebrity backdrop

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, shows her husband, Prince William, and Queen Elizabeth II around her Chelsea Flower Show 2019 Back to Nature Garden, which she designed with
landscape architects of Davies White Landscape Architects. Picture: RHS/Luke McGregor

Monday’s Press Day at the Chelsea Flower Show was attended by a host of international celebrities and royalty. Queen Elizabeth II was joined by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Actress Dame Judi Dench arrived in a dress coat embroidered with flowers and peacocks, and actress Joan Collins chose a design of pink arums on a black dress.

South Africa’s international cooking legend, Prue Leith, actress Joanna Lumley, journalist Piers Morgan, singer Elaine Paige and chef Ainsley Harriott were all spotted in the Grand Marquee, site of the South African exhibit.

Earlier this year it was announced that the Duchess of Cambridge would co-design her own Back to Nature Garden with Davies White Landscape Architects. 

Journalists suggested it was the “Kate Middleton effect” that saw all 168000 tickets to this year’s flower show being sold out early. Inspired by childhood memories, the woodland garden designed by the duchess attracted enormous international attention.

Her garden included forget-me-nots planted in memory of Princess Diana and was decorated by Kate’s children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. 

Gold

Artist Tristan Woudberg beside the 3m high slate mountain that forms the backdrop of South Africa’s gold medal exhibit. Picture: Supplied

Award Against this celebrity backdrop, South Africa’s diverse floral kingdom was presented to the world by a team that included designers Leon Kluge and Chris Randlehoff, artist Tristan Woudberg, horticultural staff from botanical gardens managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and a team of dedicated volunteers.

The week-long build-up for the South African exhibit got off to a rocky start when the team were faced with unexpected delays in the arrival of a shipping container from South Africa carrying their equipment.

Chris Randlehoff, left, with Lihle Dlamini, Leon Kluge and Siphuxolo Ngqasa are part of the South African team at Chelsea. Picture: Supplied

In addition, many of the plants did not survive the trip from Cape Town to London, and the team had to make unexpected replacements. Kluge’s team worked tirelessly to get the exhibit showready by Sunday.

Monday morning’s Press Day was followed by judging on Monday evening. Chelsea judges focus on plant quality and selection, creativity, design uniqueness and impact in their judging criteria.

“The pressure is always on to produce an exhibit that will surpass the previous years’,” Kluge said from London. “Thankfully, we managed to do exactly that and are extremely proud to be bringing home another gold medal.”

Mountain Silhouettes

King proteas (Protea cynaroides) in various colours are prominent in the exhibit. Pictured: ‘Red Rex’. Picture: Supplied

SANBI board chairperson Beryl Ferguson says: “Exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower Show provides South Africa with an opportunity to show the world the spectrum of our flowers – a snapshot of our biodiversity.”

The focal point of this year’s exhibit was a 3m high bold and abstract slate mountain. One side of the hand-made slate silhouette depicts a protea landscape in the foothills of Table Mountain.

On the flip side, yellow arums lie in the foothills of a slate silhouette of the Magaliesberg, declared a world biosphere in 2015. Abstract waterfalls and streams were created with traditional Ndebele hats throughout the flowers. Various species of proteas, arums, restios and fynbos were arranged as they occur naturally on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Inspiring plants

Shipping plants from South Africa to London is a challenge. All plant materials required for the annual exhibit are sourced, plus an additional 20% in case some plants are not suitable for use once they arrive in London.

The inspiration for this year’s exhibit came from Kluge’s own explorations of many regions in the country, and the discovery of Bartinney Estate overlooking the Banhoek Valley.

“Their sponsorship of the fynbos and proteas used in the exhibit has allowed us to showcase some interesting and rarely seen plants at Chelsea,” says Kluge. “In addition to restios and fynbos, we had king proteas in all the different colours this year, something which I was very excited about.

“There are also rarer kinds of proteas included, as well as a small species that even lies on the sand in order to get pollinated by mice. “All the plants came together to produce a magical showcase of only a fraction of South Africa’s biodiversity,” says Kluge.

Fireworks shines

South Africa’s Agapanthus ‘Fireworks’ took third place in the Chelsea Plant of the
Year 2019 Competition. Picture: RHS/ Sarah Cuttle

A lesser publicised South African achievement at London’s proverbial Olympics of gardening took place in the Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 Competition, which saw South Africa’s Agapanthus “Fireworks” take a prestigious third place.

Propagated by Andy de Wet at The Aloe Farm, Hartbeespoort, Agapanthus “Fireworks” was in a field of 140 new plant releases from across the world – a remarkable achievement for South Africa.

The 2019 Chelsea Plant of The Year was won by a variegated Korean plant, Sedum takesimense “Atlantis”, with the hybrid foxglove Digitalis × valinii “Firebird” in second place, and South Africa’s Agapanthus “Fireworks” in third place. 

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