South Africa wins 35th Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show

23 May 2017

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) team at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show were jumping for joy this this morning when they learned that they had won South Africa’s 35th gold medal in 42 years of exhibiting at the prestigious show.

And, in an additional accolade for the team, the display was also awarded with the prestigious President’s Award.

Designers David Davidson, Ray Hudson, the SANBI team, staff and volunteers had been on tenterhooks since Sunday night, when all the finishing touches to the exhibit were complete and it was ready for judging and a visit by Queen Elizabeth who tours the exhibits after the judges have made their decision.

Chelsea Flower 2017



“The waiting is so difficult,” said Lihle Dlamini, SANBI’s Director of Marketing and Communication, who is part of the team at the show. “But this makes all the hard work worthwhile. We are so proud to be receiving another gold medal as well as the President’s Award for South Africa.  It is just fantastic!”

The euphoric designers, David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, said that receiving the President’s Award was beyond their wildest dreams. They could not stress enough that this win was a team effort and it would not have come together without the help of the wonderful group of SANBI staff and volunteers.

With its theme Windows on Biodiversity, the circular exhibit with its stunning backdrop of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is a rich and varied voyage of discovery.

On display are plants that represent all ten of South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens: Free State, Hantam, Harold Porter, Karoo Desert, Kirstenbosch, Kwelera, Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and Walter Sisulu.

 “The richness of our biodiversity is one of South Africa’s greatest natural assets,” said Dr Tanya Abrahamse, SANBI CEO. “South Africa is home to nearly 10% of the world’s plants and contains three regions that have been declared global biodiversity hotspots, so it is fitting that we celebrate this heritage this year at Chelsea.”

SANBI CEO Tanya Abrahamse had high praise for the team. “They have given of their best, and can be very proud of their success. I am so grateful to be completing my tenure as CEO on such a high note.”

A win at Chelsea has a far-reaching effect. The SANBI stand is one of the “must-see” attractions of the Chelsea Flower Show, drawing many of the over 150 000 visitors to the grounds of the Royal Hospital over the five days of the event.

“Once again the important role that botanical gardens play in contributing to the country’s tourism statistics is underscored,” Dlamini said. “Our exhibit provides a snapshot to the country’s botanical heritage and many people decide to visit our country after seeing what we have on offer here.”

As always, the success of the stand depends on the enthusiastic team of volunteers who join the designers and SANBI representatives in ensuring that our display is perfect in every way.  This year the SANBI team will include Lihle Dlamini, Lufuno Nenungwi, Mashudu Nndanduleni and Felicity Poole.

Editor’s notes:

A concerted effort is made each year at the Chelsea Flower Show to showcase the broad botanical and cultural diversity of South Africa, as well as the geographic range of the National Botanical Gardens. However, it is important to recognize that the event is a celebration of spring, whereas for us in the southern hemisphere, the season is late autumn. The predominance of flowers from the Cape Floral Kingdom shown at Chelsea is for the simple reason that the fynbos flowers mainly during winter, which is what makes our participation at the Chelsea Flower Show possible.

Our History at the Chelsea Flower Show

Initially an image-building initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the immeasurable value of this event as a magnet for tourism has increased dramatically since the dawn of the New South Africa, in spite of the termination of government funding in 1995 in favour of other diplomatic expansion programmes. South Africa’s participation has been sponsored by various corporate entities since then to promote the country as a prime ecotourism destination and showcase one of the world’s richest and most diverse floral kingdoms. (A list of exhibits and awards appear on the inside covers of this brochure).

The South African Department of Foreign Affairs (Cultural Affairs, Bureau of Information) appointed a British floral designer, Pam Simcock, in 1976, to create the ‘South Africa’ exhibit on behalf of Kirstenbosch. By 1993 the exhibit had been awarded 17 Gold Medals and also won the Wilkinson Sword trophy for the ‘Best Overseas Exhibit’ for the four consecutive years that the award was made (1981 – 1984). The flowers, some of which were donated by various growers, were sourced and dispatched from Kirstenbosch to the South African Embassy in London each year.

The National Botanical Gardens of South Africa (later the National Botanical Institute, and presently the South African National Biodiversity Institute [SANBI]) also sends a team of staff members to Chelsea every year to man the exhibit during the show week.

Since 1994 the exhibit has been sponsored by various South African businesses and banks, and more recently Kirstenbosch has raised funds by staging special Chelsea benefit concerts at the Garden. The design and construction has been undertaken by a core team from South Africa comprising David Davidson and Raymond Hudson as designers and a rotational group of SANBI staff members, assisted by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, from South Africa and abroad.

The design concept for the exhibit also changed at this juncture. It was decided to create landscaped exhibits that attempted to create a ‘sense of place’ and convey some idea of the actual geographical context reproduced in the displays, as well as endeavouring to answer some of the frequently asked questions about the plants, their growth forms, natural habitat and locality.

The designers

David Davidson and Raymond Hudson have been responsible for designing and creating the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibit for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 23 consecutive years, together with a small core team and an enthusiastic crew of volunteers.

During this time the exhibit has garnered 16 RHS Gold Medals (bringing the total since 1976 to 34), as well as the Anthony Huxley Trophy (1995) and the Lawrence Medal for the best floral exhibit shown to the RHS in 2006. The exhibit was also the first recipient of the RHS President’s Most Creative Award, introduced at Chelsea in 2008. In 2015 the exhibit was awarded Silver Gilt.

Plants and art have always been David’s greatest passion, although he began his professional career in psychology and clinical social work. He later headed the Graphic Services Unit at the National Biodiversity Institute (Kirstenbosch) for 18 years – a role that included show design.

His current full-time occupation is as a graphic designer and scenic artist. He has also created floral exhibits in other parts of the world including Palmengarten, Germany; the Royal Flora Expo in Thailand; the Singapore Garden Festival and the Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan.

Raymond obtained a Diploma in Horticulture and gained his comprehensive practical training and work experience with the Durban Botanic Garden. He subsequently obtained a Diploma in Parks Administration at the John Brooks School of Landscape Design (1984).

Ray’s career in landscaping includes the design and management of numerous large estates and landscaping projects for Keith Kirsten Horticulture International such as the spectacular Cape wine estates of Delaire and Cavalli, whilst his speciality is domestic and small garden design.                                                                                                                                

Jessica Miller
Cell: 078 483 1045
Tel: 021 556 4777

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