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South African World Heritage Sites inspire this year’s Kirstenbosch – SA Chelsea Flower Show exhibit

April 14, 2011

BOTANICAL LANDSCAPES is the theme for the 2011 Kirstenbosch – South Africa exhibit to the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in London. Inspired by two of the eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, this display will mark the 36th year of our exhibiting at what is known as the “Olympics” of Flower Shows. Visitors to the show from 24 to 27 May will once again delight in the exotic and innovative South African entry.

Without the swift intervention of the Provincial Government of the Western Cape (PGWC) and the SA Gold Coin Exchange it was doubtful that South Africa would exhibit this year due to a lack of funding. Thankfully the two sponsors came to the rescue and have generously ensured that South Africa’s long run remains unbroken.

Designers David Davidson and Raymond Hudson have once again identified areas of interest that make for a fascinating display. Two of South Africa’s most iconic and diverse botanical landscapes form the subject of the display. Exceedingly rich in species diversity, and sharply contrasting in habitat – the Cape Floral Kingdom of the Western Cape and the arid, mountainous desert of the Northern Cape’s Richtersveld region, each provide a dramatic setting and some of the richest reservoirs of plant life on earth.

Both these World Heritage Sites are also biodiversity hotspots – of which there are only 25 worldwide – featuring an incredibly high diversity of species as well as endemism. The Succulent Karoo biome is the only arid biodiversity hotspot on Earth.

Table Mountain, that may soon become one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, and the dramatic ‘moonscapes’ of the remote and rugged Richtersveld provide the panoramic perspectives for these locations, and contoured staging of the exhibit creates platforms featuring the southernmost signature plants of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s fynbos flora, ranging from coastal to mountain vegetation as well as hotspot species from the arid north. Once more visitors will be able to experience a “step” into our landscape through the innovative design construction.

Always a well visited stand, The Kirstenbosch – SA entry has also become a vital link to improved economies in South Africa. Not only does the display illustrate a unique tourism destination but, by using local suppliers to supply a variety of components, jobs are created and small businesses supported.

Through the PGWC, the Khayelitsha-based ‘Township‘ project has produced eco-friendly bags that visitors to our stand will be able to collect. This, along with their story, is one more way that the global community experiences some of the extraordinary projects that are thriving in our country.

Plant material for the exhibit is sourced from various parts of the country and part of the mandate in sourcing this material is also to utilise in empowerment projects where possible. This year, Berghoff Boerdery, a sustainable fynbos farming project in Porterville, will be one of the suppliers. This valuable contact came from the PGWC and focuses once again on the economic benefit that this exhibit has for the country.

The Cape Floral Region section includes as wide an array of fynbos species as possible – depending on flowering times and availability. These include many members of the Proteaceae – numerous protea species as well as cultivars and new hybrids, leucadendrons (cone bushes), leucospermums (pincushions) if available, Pagoda plants (Mimetes) serrurias (Blushing Bride) and brunias.
Many other fynbos species also feature, such as heaths (Erica), ‘slangbos’ (Stoebe), restios, Nemesia, Lobelia, Osteospermum, Arctotis, Gazania, and Disa orchids. Various Renosterveld species, such as Elytropappus rhinocerotis (Renosterbos) will also be displayed.

The Namaqualand/Knersvlakte/Richtersveld section features a very special plant – Pachypodium namaquanum, the ‘halfmens’. The generic name Pachypodium is derived from the Greek word pachys meaning thick and podion meaning foot. The specific name namaquanum refers to Namaqualand, a semi-arid region in the northwest which is renowned for its spring displays of wild flowers. Other interesting species include the giant Bastard Quiver Tree (Aloe pilansii), Aloe rammosissima, Argyroderma and Conophytum species (stone plants), euphorbias and bulbous plants.

This year’s sponsors are delighted with the concept of the exhibit and are supporting and adding value to the project in many ways.

“The Western Cape has a thriving tourism industry, and we believe our participation at Chelsea serves as an invaluable advertisement for our Province as a tourism destination of note. We also want to make people aware of our campaign to have Table Mountain nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, as well as Cape Town’s bid to be the 2014 Design Capital of the World. Chelsea is also the perfect platform to showcase our cut flower industry; this year also including flowers from a black economic empowerment farm”, says Gerrit van Rensburg, Western Cape Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Alan Demby, Chairman of the S A Gold Coin Exchange and the Scoin shops endorses this comment whilst adding: “Celebrating our floral heritage has always been a major feature of the Protea gold coins since the SA Mint brought out its first coin in the Protea series in 1986, celebrating the centenary of Johannesburg . To be able to contribute to a display such as this made good business sense as we operate both in South Africa and the UK with our unique chain of Scoin shops. Our ten years of democracy commemorative Gold Coin that features Nelson Mandela on the obverse and the king protea on the reverse is one of the most popular coins ever produced and was a complete sellout, Since its release in 2004, it has become over seven times more valuable,” he said. “To encourage our designers to win gold at the Chelsea Flower Show this year , we have decided to sponsor Mandela gold medallions as well .

Dr Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is enthusiastic about this year’s exhibit: “Our two major sponsors have enabled us to continue showing the world why they should be visiting South Africa” she says, “the diversity of our regions, the richness of our plant life, the value we put on our landscapes are major tourism factors. Above all we are able to show how this exhibit benefits all communities in the long term”.

Says Davidson: “Given South Africa’s diverse culture and history and her spectacular natural resources and wildlife, it is not surprising that it is home to eight World Heritage Sites. Of these the two sites chosen are the most divergent of the three natural sites, offering a fascinating mix of plantlife and a window on South Africa’s diversity. ”

Over the past 35 years the Kirstenbsoch SA exhibit has achieved 30 Gold medals, two Silver-Gilt medals and three Silver medals, as well as numerous other special awards for outstanding contributions, including the Lawrence Medal in 2006 for the ‘Best Exhibit shown to the Society’ in that year and the first recipient of the new ‘President’s Most Creative Award’ in 2008.

With high hopes for another medal the display is project managed by Sarah Struys, Events Manager at Kirstenbosch with the designers and a team from SANBI: Lufuno Konanani – horticulturist at the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg and Adam Harrower – horticulturist at Kirstenbosch. Enthusiastic volunteers from South Africa make their way to London to assist making the exhibit a truly passionate South African project.

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