There was jubilation at the South African National Biodiversity Institute exhibit (SANBI: Kirstenbosch and Harold Porter) at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday morning (24 May 2016) when designers David Davidson and Ray Hudson, and the team of SANBI staff and volunteers, learned that they had won South Africa’s 34th gold medal in 41 years of exhibiting at the prestigious show.
“The waiting is the worst part, but this makes all the hard work worthwhile,” said Lihle Dlamini, SANBI’s director of marketing and communication, who is part of the team at the show. “It is just fantastic!”
Exhibiting at Chelsea is a long-term commitment – the designs are planned months before, and the plant specimens are carefully nurtured, collected and packaged for their long journey. Then, on the Saturday and Sunday before the judging, it is non-stop hard work to get the exhibit picture-perfect and fit for the Queen, who tours the exhibits after the judges have made their decision.
“By Sunday night, we know that we have done what we can, and it is over to the judges to make their decision on Monday morning,” said Davidson. “We were kept on tenterhooks – and away from our stand while the celebrities and Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the show, so we only heard the happy news on Tuesday morning!”
SANBI CEO Tanya Abrahamse had high praise for the team. “We took a new direction this year by choosing to showcase different aspects of our rich and unique biodiversity, with a focus on the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, and it has certainly paid off,” she said.
“The plants from the garden, located as it is within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, are unique. This is a place of such natural beauty and complex floral diversity as to be recognised as perhaps the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspot. It was a privilege to be able to recreate such bounty here at Chelsea.”
A win at Chelsea has a far-reaching effect. The SANBI stand is one of the must-see attractions of the Chelsea Flower Show, which draws over 150 000 visitors over the five-day 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 of the country’s botanical heritage, and many people decide to visit our country after seeing what we have on offer here.”
The success of the stand depends on the enthusiastic team of volunteers who join the designers and SANBI representatives in ensuring that the display is perfect in every way. This year Dlamini, Alice Notten (interpretation officer at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden) and Sthembile Zondi (horticulturist at KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden) worked hard to help achieve the 34th gold medal.