Kirstenbosch at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show 2018

Today was a historic day for the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)’s Kirstenbosch-South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit, as the SANBI team welcomed their new design team, paid tribute to their multi-award winning design duo of the past 24 years, and presented the model of their exhibit for the Chelsea Flower Show 2018.

David Davidson and Raymond Hudson designed and created the Kirstenbosch-South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit for 24 consecutive years. During this time the exhibit garnered 18 RHS Gold Medals, as well as several additional special awards. In 1995, the exhibit received the Anthony Huxley Trophy, and in 2006 the Lawrence Medal for the best floral exhibit shown to the RHS. The exhibit went on to becoming the first recipient of the RHS President’s Most Creative Award, introduced at Chelsea in 2008, and last year it received the RHS President’s Award.

Exhibiting and excelling at the Chelsea Flower Show, the most prestigious flower show in the world, has put Kirstenbosch and its sister gardens in the SANBI group in the spotlight internationally, as botanical gardens and important tourism attractions. Visited by over 1 million people from around the world every year, Kirstenbosch is recognised as one of the top seven botanical gardens in the world, and is one of the Cape Town Big 7 tourism attractions. SANBI thanked Davidson and Hudson for the vital role they have played in putting the SANBI gardens on the international map and attracting international visitors to our country. The designers were also presented with a gift from the Cape Town Big 7 tourism attractions.

SANBI is excited about having secured the service of Leon Kluge Garden Design and head designer Leon Kluge to design and lead the construction team of the Kirstenbosch-South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit for the next five years. With an impressive background in horticulture and landscaping and a dazzling track record in creating show gardens all over the world, Leon Kluge is bound to take the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibit to new heights. (Please refer to the Editor’s Notes for Leon Kluge’s biography.)

Kluge is not new to the Chelsea Flower Show. He joined Kirstenbosch’s Chelsea team in London as a volunteer on four occasions over the past ten years , where he learned different aspects of creating floral exhibits from David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, whom he still regards as his mentors. Leon also worked closely with David on this year’s Chelsea design.

Iconic Landscapes is the theme of the Kirstenbosch-South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit 2018, and Leon Kluge’s first creation for SANBI-Kirstenbosch.

South Africa is a treasure-house of iconic landscapes. They abound in nature and the natural environment but also in the cultural landscapes that contain and define them. The exhibit takes the viewer on a journey around the sub-continent, where the design team 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, and as he sat down for coffee at Lookout Hill, 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 will form the backdrop of the exhibit.

The design starts off with the Mother City and of course its Table Mountain National Park, often associated with the Cape Floral Region or fynbos biome, then travels northwards along the iconic 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.

As always, the success of the stand depends on the enthusiastic team of volunteers who join the designer and SANBI representatives in ensuring that our display is perfect in every way.

This year the SANBI team will include Mpendulo Gabayi, Ricardo Riddles and Lihle Dlamini.  Chris Randlehoff from Leon Kluge Garden Design will also join the team in London.

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

Sarah Struys
Events and Tourism Manager: Kirstenbosch

Editor’s notes

Our history at the Chelsea Flower Show

Summary of awards received at the Chelseas Flower Show from 1976 to 2017:

  • 35 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 utilizing 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 Botanical 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 governors 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 north-western 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 gardenconsists 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 NBG, 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 1000 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: 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. Its frosty south-facing section and the north-facing, warmer 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 which comprises 160 ha of pristine coastal dune forest, natural vegetation, marine frontage, coastal grasslands but does not currently have visitor facilities.

The Cape Town Big 7

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Point, Robben Island, Groot Constantia, Table Mountain Cableway, V&A Waterfront and the Cape Town City Walk form the Cape Town Big 7, a marketing body to ensure visitors know there are seven unmissable things to do in Cape Town. The aim is to encourage visitors to extend their stay in terms of number of days and extend their range, opening up the opportunity for other sites to be visited and further boosting the flourishing tourism industry.

Scroll to top