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Farewell to our golden king of the Chelsea Flower Show

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David “Dobs” Davidson became the calm, knowledgeable and trusted face of South Africa

The death of garden exhibition designer David “Dobs” Davidson, 67, after a short battle with cancer, rocked the gardening world this week. For 24 consecutive years (1994-2017), gardeners across the country watched in anticipation each May as designers Davidson and Ray Hudson set out to build South Africa’s floral exhibit at London’s highly competitive Chelsea Flower Show, the “Olympics” of gardening.

As a window to the flora of South Africa, these garden exhibits influenced and encouraged a generation of European eco-tourists to visit our country. Battling tight deadlines, endless regulations and international competition, Davidson steered the national team through four hectic weeks at the Chelsea Flower Show site in London each year.

He became the calm, knowledgeable and trusted face of South Africa, not only to Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) officials, but also to Queen Elizabeth and members of the royal family who visited the South Africa exhibit each year.

During Davidson’s leadership, hundreds of young horticulturists and landscapers were given a once-off opportunity to join the national build team at Chelsea. Under Davidson’s artistic direction, South Africa was awarded 18 gold medals and three prestigious RHS show trophies.

To the delight of local gardeners, Davidson also found sponsorship to recreate award-winning exhibits across South Africa. A graduate of Helderberg College and a psychologist by profession, Davidson’s work as an award-winning theatre set designer and garden show exhibition designer were to be among his second and third careers.

Highly regarded internationally, he also worked in Japan, Singapore and Thailand, where he designed garden exhibits for international flower shows and worked in royal gardens. 

The Fynbos Forum was among many organisations to have their logos designed by Davidson. With close links to Kirstenbosch, he also designed their annual reports, invitations and sunset concert posters.

Travelling extensively across the country in search of material for the national exhibit, Davidson was a much-loved speaker at garden clubs and judge at garden design shows. Warm, humble, and very knowledgeable, Davidson leaves an extraordinary legacy in the gardening world. He will be missed. 


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