SA’s 32nd Chelsea win


Gateways – A botanical journey is the theme of the 2012 South Africa– Kirstenbosch exhibit which won a 32nd gold medal for SA at the Chelsea Flower Show in London this week.

The 2012 Chelsea Flower Show is taking place just eight weeks before the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and just a week before the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth (June 2-5).

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Throughout the SA exhibit, visitors are transported to picturesque local scenes and destinations such as a fishermans cottage on the south-western Cape coast.Horticulturist Mandisa Kondlo from Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens finishes an exhibit.South African exhibition designer Raymond Hudson pays meticulous attention to detail in the design, graphics and planting in each of the four exhibits.

As the Chelsea Flower Show’s royal patron, Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the annual Chelsea Flower Show earlier this week was the 48th. Diamond motifs across the show honoured her 60 years on the throne, Diamonds are Forever was the theme in the floral art competition and a large Victorian style bedding plant display spelt out the Diamond Jubilee year at the entrance to the show.

Against this backdrop, the South African team created their 36th garden at the show this year and won their 32nd gold medal.

Nineteen of the SA exhibits to Chelsea have been designed by David Davidson and Ray Hudson, who once again showed their world-class skills to Royal Horticultural Society judges.

Organised by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and sponsored by the Gold Coin Exchange, the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibit was built by a team of 26 designers, volunteers and technical support.

Each year, a network of South Africans living in Britain assist the team and a few talented landscapers and horticulturists are handpicked from SA and make their own way to Chelsea to assist the team.

The core built-up team that flew from SA earlier this month included horticultural staff from both Kirstenbosch and the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort.

The aim of the 2012 Gateways – A botanical journey exhibit is to take visitors to Chelsea on a journey across SA.

Like the diary of a traveller, the exhibit includes a scene from the south-western Cape coast and interior (fynbos biome) extending into Namaqualand and the semi-arid Karoo (succulent Karoo biome) and onward to the northern provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga (grassland biome).

The disarmingly simple design of this year’s exhibit was accompanied by meticulous attention to detail in the design, graphics and planting.

Divided into four triangles which meet at a central point, the four gardens feature four destinations in South Africa, each with a gateway entrance to provide a sense of arrival and place. The four gardens included a gracious Cape Dutch Manor House surrounded by proteas, a fisherman's cottage in a garden of restios, a rough Karoo farm track complete with succulents and grasses, and finally, an Ndebele archway that leads to a bushveld scene complete with aloes and a baobab.

Four superb painted backdrops were framed behind the gardens. Installed on a curve behind the frames, the outstanding landscape graphics gave a three dimensional visual effect to the exhibit.

The perimeter of each garden was bordered by a regionally characteristic entrance or wall. The protea garden was entered through an elaborate Cape Dutch gate, the fisherman's garden was enclosed with a simple, low slung white wall. The bushveld garden included an elaborate Ndebele kraal entrance, but the karoo garden featured just a rusty fence, complete with cattle grid.

The Cape Winelands garden featured a host of protea species as well as cultivars and new hybrids, including leucadendrons (cone bushes), leucospermums (pincushions), serrurias (blushing bride) and heaths (Erica). Spectacular Madiba proteas in deep red and white were placed at the corner of the exhibit and drew gasps of admiration from visitors to the press day, who ranged from CNN's Piers Morgan to British music legends, Cliff Richard, Roger Daltrey and Ringo Starr.

The Cape fisherman's garden displayed an extraordinary array of Cape reeds (restios). Brilliant yellow arums were an eye-catching feature in the Ndebele bushveld garden, and the Karoo scene was dominated by grasses, vygies (Mesembryanthemaceae) and stonecrops (Crassulaceae).

Moving plants from South Africa to Britain for the show continues to be a monumental task and gets increasingly difficult as a host of regulations in both countries are tightened. This year, plants were once again held up for days by British inspection teams in Bristol and without the assistance of the British High Commission to South Africa, many of the large sculptural plants, such as the aloes, may not have arrived at Chelsea.

The aim of South Africa exhibiting at Chelsea has always been to attract eco-tourists to the country. The South African Gold Coin Exchange is the major sponsor of the exhibit for the second year in a row and a limited edition of a Gold Mandela medallion featuring the portrait of Mandela on one side and the Strelitzia on the reverse, links the icon to South Africa's unique flora. - Saturday Star

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