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April 19, 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013 – Kirstenbosch going for gold again

The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden's exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2013 Chelsea Flower Show will be an enclosed reconstruction of the Central Garden and the Dell, the oldest and most beautiful parts of the garden. 

They're going for gold this year with their exhibit displaying the Central Garden and Dell. Photo supplied

This year's competition is a very special one, as both Kirstenbosch and the Chelsea Flower Show celebrate their centenary.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show will be held from May 21 to 25 in London, and the award-winning Kirstenbosch team will be aiming to win their 33rd gold medal.

The exhibition, once again conceptualised and designed by David Davidson and Raymond Hudson will be a circular, walk-through exhibition featuring the Dell and the Cycad Ampitheatre on one side, and the Protea Garden and mountain skyline on the other.

David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, the driving force behind conceptualising and designing the exhibition. Photo supplied

An overhead canopy will be reminiscent of the sky and will enhance the sense of quietude Kirstenbosch is renowned for. 

One of the highlights of the exhibit will be the "Centenarians" – the oldest plants. These plants have been growing at Kirstenbosch for 100 years or more, or were introduced during the first five years, 1913-1917, and are still there today. Not all of the specimens are 100 years old. Some are cuttings, offshoots or seedlings of the original plants and have been propagated and grown at Kirstenbosch over the past 100 years. The ever-popular Protea family will provide a colourful and always fascinating display against the iconic Table Mountain backdrop.

Here's a sneak peek of what the exhibition will look like:

The external walls of the exhibit feature the history of the establishment and development of the Garden, and the two external corner displays feature another of the Garden’s main seasonal attractions, the Mathews Rockery on one side, and a specimen display of Kirstenbosch Centenarian plants on the other.

A century ago the tract of land on which Kirstenbosch stands was a derelict farm, with roaming herds of pigs, thickets of weeds and plantations of alien plants. Now it is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, and a tourist drawcard. It also forms part of UNESCO's Cape Floral Kingdom

The development of Kirstenbosch began in 1913 in the natural amphitheatre embracing the Dell, in the heart of the Garden. The paths and steps leading up from the Dell were paved and cobbled in local stone by Kirstenbosch stonemasons.

A Kirstenbosch staff member tends one of the cycads in the garden. Photo courtesy of tim ellis


By 1916 all but two of the species of cycads found in South Africa (at that time) had been planted and this Living Collection – the first to be established at Kirstenbosch – today contains 37 of approximately 40 Southern African cycad species and remains a world-class, living gene-bank of these ancient and remarkable plants.

The Dell was one of the earliest developments in Kirstenbosch. Colonel Bird’s Bath, often erroneously referred to Lady Anne Barnard's Bath, was built in approximately 1811 by Colonel Christopher Bird, Deputy Colonial Secretary. He built this bird-shaped pool (a play on his name) to collect and purify springwater, before it was piped to the farmhouse nearby. It is built of Batavian bricks and fed by four crystal-clear, ice-cold perennial springs. Then, as now, this is the discreet focal point of the Garden, from which all else radiates.

Colonel Bird's Bath is a focal point of the Central Garden. Photo courtesy of flowcomm

Plants are sourced from all over the country for the Chelsea Flower Show, making this a combined effort from both farmers and landscapers who take pride in participating at this prestigious event. Community projects are also represented, to ensure that local programmes benefit from their inclusion.

The entry is being sponsored by the South African Gold Coin Exchange for the fourth year. Winning a 33rd gold medal is the goal and is the synergy that the Chairman of the SA Gold Coin Exchange and Scoin shops, Alan Demby, enjoys.

“As a sponsor for the past three years, we have seen the team win RHS gold medals annually. The Mandela’s Gold Strelitzia at Kirstenbosch has been the inspiration for a limited edition Gold Mandela medallion. This features the portrait of Mandela on the obverse and the Strelitzia on the reverse. Our commitment and sponsorship to the Kirstenbosch attempt to win even more gold medals is reinforced with this medallion and in this, the Centenary year, we see even more synergies with our coin ranges.” he says.

The inspirational Mandela’s Gold Strelitzia. Photo courtesy of Lip Key

Dr Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), will be there to cheer the team on.

“To celebrate the Centenary of Kirstenbosch and to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show Centenary is a wonderful opportunity to show the value that we place on our botanical heritage. Biodiversity is our natural capital – it is the extraordinary variety of life, such as plants, animals and insects that are the foundation of ecosystems that provide people with sustainable benefits. From ecosystems we derive essential goods and services, such as food, water, grazing, pollination, fish and medicines. Our ecological infrastructure is an extremely valuable national asset, and we embrace the opportunity Chelsea affords us to highlight this," says Abrahamse.

Davidson and Hudson has led the winning design team for 19 years, winning 14 gold medals in that time.

“Our experience at Chelsea over the years has been exhilarating, and being part of two Centenaries is an added bonus. This exhibit shows the world the importance we place on our natural heritage and history, and Kirstenbosch’s ‘coming of age’ gives the traveller yet another reason to visit South Africa and come into our Garden,” says Davidson.

The good news for South Africans and visitors, is that the exhibit will be recreated at the V&A Waterfront from August 31 until September 24. 

Kirstenbosh celebrates its centenary this year. Photo courtesy of Arthur Chapman

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