Culture is key as Mzansi grows for gold at Chelsea Flower Show

04 April 2019 - 08:00 By MATTI GELLMAN
Leon Kluge, the designer behind Kirstenbosch’s 2019 Chelsea Flower Show exhibition.
Leon Kluge, the designer behind Kirstenbosch’s 2019 Chelsea Flower Show exhibition.
Image: Esa Alexander

Kirstenbosch botanical garden in Cape Town will look to SA’s many cultures for inspiration at this year's Chelsea Flower Show in the UK.

The design plan of this year's entry to the annual contest shows an explosion of colour, interspersed with objects and artefacts representing Mzansi's floral diversity and cultural heritage.

The man behind the exhibit, which was unveiled on Wednesday, is Leon Kluge, who brought home gold for SA last year.

He follows in the footsteps of David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, who between them won a total of 18 gold medals for the SA National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) in previous years.

“You win gold at Chelsea, you can’t really go higher,” said Kluge, who is hoping to deliver another gold at the event in London in May.

Leon Kluge's concept for the Kirstenbosch exhibit at this year's Chelsea Flower Show.
Leon Kluge's concept for the Kirstenbosch exhibit at this year's Chelsea Flower Show.
Image: Esa Alexander

Kluge’s design includes elements such as Zulu hats flipped upside down that pour water over the horticultural display, depicting SA's rivers and lakes.

Table Mountain is also represented in the design, which will be bordered with tribal symbols from across the country, underscoring its theme, “Mountains of Abundance”.

“We will showcase our diversity as South Africa - our rainbows of flowers and colours, our complexity ... From the east to the west, we have everything,” said Sanbi chairperson Beryl Ferguson.

In a statement, Sanbi said the design would be judged on its creativity and ability to reproduce an authentic sense of the country and its geography.

References to culture are what set SA's exhibit apart from other entrants, said Kluge. “Most of them just display flowers. The most important thing for us is the people. That gives you the intrigue to come and visit,” he said.

Chelsea expedition to Pringle bay... Researching Restio's and Erica's for the Chelsea flower show 2019 #kirstenbosch #chelseaflowershow #leonkluge #gardendesign

Posted by Leon Kluge on Sunday, 31 March 2019

Since government funding for the Chelsea entry was cut in 1995, the money required to create the displays and transport them to London has been generated by fundraising. By encouraging tourism, SA's entries at the show have also been able to attract corporate sponsors.

However, with the strained economy since 2016, Sanbi has struggled to sustain its funding. Last year’s drought in the Western Cape added to the challenge. “It’s been a bit of a problem,” said Sanbi marketing officer Lihle Dlamini. “We’re taking each year as it comes."

But she remains optimistic. “We’ll get gold - it's what we do!” she told colleagues and volunteers rallying in support of Kluge’s design.

Sanbi CEO Moshibudi Rampedi said exhibiting at Chelsea gave the institute the chance to share with the world what SA has. "It shows that historically we have a way of managing our natural assets that benefits nature, people and the economy,” she said.


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