The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has received the good news from London this morning that the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibit has received another GOLD medal at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show.

Leon Kluge, SANBI’s new designer, is overjoyed: “It was an experience compared to none representing South Africa at the world’s most prestigious flower show, the Chelsea Flower Show.  Winning an award is an added bonus. My team and I hope that we made South Africa proud and that we convinced many, many people here in Europe to visit our magnificent diverse country.”

SANBI Board Chairperson Nana Magomola and CEO Dr Moshibudi Rampedi, both at the Chelsea Flower Show this morning, praised the team for the superb work they have done in presenting South Africa’s unique biodiversity to the world.

“Once again SANBI – Kirstenbosch has done South Africa proud,” said Nana Magomola. Our 36th gold medal in 43 years of participating at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show! Greater thanks to our new designers, Leon Kluge and Chris Randlehoff, and our volunteers who worked hard to make the exhibit a success. From SANBI, Mpendulo Gabayi of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Ricardo Riddles of the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden , thank you for your contribution to this year’s exhibit. Well done, you stand on the shoulders of giants who came before you.”

Our team has presented many facets of the beauty and diversity of South Africa’s floral kingdom and cultures,” Dr Rampedi said.

Designer Leon Kluge with the Gold award. Photo: John Cole-Morgan

Leon Kluge took over the reins from multi-award winning designers Davidson and Raymond Hudson, who designed and created the Kirstenbosch-South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit for 24 years.

The theme of this year’s Kirstenbosch–South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit, and Kluge’s first design, is Iconic Landscapes. The exhibit takes the viewer on a journey around the sub-continent, where the designer has taken a rather light-hearted approach to the style in which the landscapes are presented, by using the very powerful and iconic forms of contemporary township art that depict cultural life in these landscapes.

Kluge was in the area of Khayelitsha photographing arum lilies, where he got inspired by the view of Table Mountain with the houses of Khayelitsha in the foreground, blending in with the landscape of indigenous flora. He then saw this blend of nature and culture depicted in the colourful creations of the local crafters. This is where he met Elmon Muringani, a crafter in the area since 2006, whom he invited to create the art work that forms the backdrop of the exhibit. The backdrop was produced at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, where Muringani and his team crafted scenes out of recycled materials.

The exhibit starts off with Cape Town and its Table Mountain National Park, often associated with the Cape Floral Region or fynbos biome, then travels northwards along the West Coast with its very different vegetation of succulent forms and the architectural styles that make this home to the West Coast fishermen, and then moves north of the country to Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumulanga with its own unique and diverse flora.

SANBI’s team in London consists of designer Leon Kluge and assistant-designer Chris Randlehoff from Leon Kluge Garden Design, SANBI’s Mpendulo Gabayi (horticulturist at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden), Ricardo Riddles (horticulturist at Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden) and Lihle Dlamini (Marketing Director for SANBI), as well as a team of dedicated volunteers:  Rentia Hobbs, Annalie Skein, Linda Keevy, Norah de Wet and Roben Penny.

The Chelsea Flower Show is visited by 160 000 people annually. This year’s show takes place from 22 to 26 May.

Sarah Struys
Tel.: +27 21 799 7775
Cell: 083 890 7541

Editor’s notes

Our history at the Chelsea Flower Show

Summary of awards received at the Chelsea Flower Show from 1976 to 2018:

  • 36 Gold Medals
  • 5 Silver-Gilt Medals (1976, 1997, 2003, 2014, 2015)
  • 2 Silver Medals (2007, 2010)
  • Anthony Huxley Trophy (1995)
  • Lindley Medal (1989) – awarded for exhibits of special educational or scientific interest
  • 2 Lawrence Medals (1992, 2006)
  • RHS President’s Most Creative Award (2008)
  • RHS President’s Award (2017).

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.

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 sent 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. From 1994 to 2017, the design and construction was 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 in 1994. 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.

Under the guidance of David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, the exhibit won 18 RHS Gold Medals (bringing the total to 35), as well as several additional special awards.

Leon Kluge was appointed as designer of the exhibit in 2018

Leon Kluge: the new designer of the Kirstenbosch – South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit

From an early age, Leon Kluge has nurtured a great affinity for plants; his grandfather was the curator of the Betty’s Bay Botanical Garden and his father was the curator of the Lowveld National Botanical Garden, while his mother owns and runs a renowned wholesale nursery in Nelspruit.

On completing his degree in landscape technology in 2002, he worked on the main display garden at Marvadesh Givatt Brenner Nursery in Israel. From there he progressed to become the head landscape designer for Societe Nel Import and Export Company in Mayotte, Comores Islands. After his return from the Comores, Leon started the award-winning Fever Tree Nursery in Nelspruit.

Leon, now based in Cape Town, shines in the competitive arena. His love of utilising unusual plants in his designs led to his inclusion in the South African team that worked their magic at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea flower show in London. He also worked as the main designer for the COP 17 Legacy Garden on the main display in the Durban Botanic Gardens in 2011.

Leon has been involved in the international show gardening arena for the last 12 years and has been invited to showcase his work at most of the world’s most prestigious flower shows.

A great moment for Leon was when he won the Gardening World Cup for Africa at the Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan 2014.

Leon also went on to be the first designer from Africa to win gold, the Best on Show and the Governor’s Design Award at the world’s biggest and oldest flower show, the Philadelphia Flower Show in the USA, where he was invited to design a garden for Disney.

He also won the Gold Award and Best Lighting Award at the Singapore Garden Festival; Gold Award and Best Design at the New Zealand International Flower Show.

Leon has installed many permanent gardens and floral installations throughout the world and his work can be seen in the Sacheon Botanical Gardens in South-Korea, Chaumont in France and in Eden, Sydney Australia.

His designs have been published in various coffee table books by BRAUN publishing company.

Leon’s floral and garden designs reflect his absolute passion, knowledge and love of plants and pushes garden design boundaries to the limit when it comes to showcasing plants.

The South Africa National Biodiversity Institute’s National Botanical Gardens

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: founded in 1913, is world-renowned for the beauty and diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom it displays as well as its incomparably magnificent setting against the eastern buttress of Table Mountain. The Kirstenbosch estate covers 528 hectares and supports a diverse fynbos flora and natural forest. The cultivated garden (36 hectares) displays plant collections mainly from the winter rainfall region of the country.

Harold Porter National Botanical Garden: Uniquely located within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and situated in the centre of the coastal fynbos where the flora is at its richest, this beautiful garden encompasses mountain slopes with wind-clipped heathlands, deep gorges with relict forests, flats and marshes with restios, sedges and bulbs, as well as dunes adjacent to the beach with specialised salt-adapted plants. The garden is renowned for its waterfalls and amber pools. It showcases more than 700 species of indigenous South African plants and over 100 species of birds.

Hantam National Botanical Garden: This garden forms part of the northwestern border of the Cape Floristic Region. Comprising 6 200 hectares and lying about 730 m above sea level, it serves as a centre for biodiversity research in the Bokkeveld Plateau and Succulent Karoo region. Over 1 350 plant species have been recorded on the Bokkeveld Plateau, including 80 endemic species (6% of the flora). Almost a third of the species endemic to the Bokkeveld Plateau are threatened with extinction. Due to the incredible diversity and density of bulbs – some 40% of the flora – the area is often referred to as the Bulb Capital of the World.

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden: This 300 hectare garden consists of a mosaic of grassland and savanna, with dense bush in kloofs and along streams. The variety of habitats in the garden accommodates over 600 naturally occurring plant species and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Some 412 indigenous tree species can be found in the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, of which 69 (17%) occur naturally in the garden.

Lowveld National Botanical Garden: Situated in the heart of Mpumalanga and straddling the Crocodile and Nels rivers with the spectacular Nelspruit Cascades, this garden is a true urban haven for biodiversity. In addition to the 600 plant species occurring naturally in the garden, more than 2 000 other species have been planted including over 650 of the approximately 1 000 tree species indigenous to South Africa. The garden’s main interpretive Riverside Trail allows visitors access to the natural riverine bush along the Crocodile River with over 140 plant species, including huge fig trees and lichens that grow flat against the rocks.

Free State National Botanical Garden: On the outskirts of Bloemfontein, in a valley between picturesque dolerite koppies, the natural vegetation of this garden comprises tall grassland and woodland, dominated by magnificent wild olive and karee trees. The garden covers 70 hectares, and is home to about 400 species of plants, mainly from the Free State, Northern Cape and Lesotho.

Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden: This garden is totally unique in that it is the only truly succulent garden in the southern hemisphere and on the African continent. It cultivates and displays a wide variety of desert and semi-desert plants and is also home to a large succulent collection. The garden boasts about 400 naturally occurring species, and is also a haven for rare and endangered plants, with over 300 species being protected and propagated.

KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden: This garden specialises in the conservation of plants from the eastern grasslands region of South Africa, and of rare and endangered species from elsewhere. The focus of the garden is to collect, display and promote the conservation of plants of the eastern grasslands, in particular the genera Clivia, Gerbera, Kniphofia and Watsonia.

Pretoria National Botanical Garden: This 76 hectare urban oasis is home to the Head Office of SANBI. A 35 m high quartzite outcrop divides the garden in two sections. The cooler south-facing section and the warmer, north-facing section present two different worlds to the visitor and botanist. Fifty hectares of the total area is devoted to developed garden, using almost exclusively South African plants. All the flowering plant species to be seen, including 50% of the country’s tree species, make this garden a botanical tapestry.

Kwelera National Botanical Garden: Kwelera, derived from an old Khoi word goerecha meaning ‘many aloes’, is the first national botanical garden to be established in the Eastern Cape. The Kwelera National Botanical Garden is an important biodiversity corridor in the region and comprises 160 hectares of pristine coastal dune forest, natural vegetation, marine frontage and coastal grasslands, but does not currently have visitor facilities.

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