WATCH | South Africa returns to Chelsea flower show (and wins)

21 May 2024 - 14:58
By TimesLIVE
A Cape sugarbird in the fynbos of the greater Cape floristic region. File image
Image: Adam Wilson A Cape sugarbird in the fynbos of the greater Cape floristic region. File image

Fynbos showcasing the diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom, from coastal sand dunes to mountains, will be on display at the Chelsea Flower Show which opens in London on Tuesday, after a four-year absence by South Africa.

The event, hosted by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), is internationally acclaimed and attracts thousands of international visitors annually. South African displays previously won 37 gold medals since 1976 when it participated for the first time. 

After a former key sponsor, the South African Biodiversity Institute/Kirstenbosch Gardens, pulled out, South Africa's return this year comes via a private sector-led initiative. The RHS said the team behind it includes floral artist and landscape designer Leon Kluge, winner of the past two gold medals, as well as horticulturist Keith Kirsten, Grootbos Foundation's Michael Lutzeyer and Marinda Nel, past chair of the Botanical Society.

On Tuesday, the Leon Kluge Garden Design team was awarded a gold medal, the 2024 "New Design Award" and Best Exhibit in the Great Pavilion.

Video shared by Leon Kluge:

The Cape Floral Kingdom is inscribed as a Unesco heritage site with an estimated 9,000 plant species.

Western Cape agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer welcomed South Africa's return to Chelsea, saying: “Our participation in the event will showcase the unique fynbos of the Western Cape and with the potential increase in the export of fynbos cut flowers, more jobs will be created and commercial and new farmers will benefit.”

Fynbos cut flowers are one of the Western Cape’s income-generating export products.

Meyer said Cape flora accounts for 90% of South Africa's cut flower exports. In 2023, fresh cut flowers were valued at R85bn on global export markets compared with R10bn for dried flowers.

Karien Bezuidenhout from Cape Flora SA, an NPO that represents South African cut flower growers and exporters, said a growth of the export market has triggered modernisation and innovation within the industry.

“This has led to higher product quality which has benefited sales in domestic and international markets. The growing demand for high quality fynbos products in international markets is welcomed, providing livelihoods for stakeholders and communities within the South African fynbos industry.”

On being at the Chelsea show, Cape Flora SA board member Jacky Goliath said: “The South African team and our products have been well received. Being part of the team and working with our national plants is exciting. Everyone is excited to see South Africa back at the show. South African products stand out nicely. It is an honour to represent South Africa.”