In the News: There was jubilation at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI-Kirstenbosch and Harold Porter) exhibit at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show this morning when designers David Davidson and Ray Hudson and the team of SANBI staff and volunteers learned that they had won South Africa’s 35th gold medal in 41 years at 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. 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,” commented designer David Davidson. “We are kept on tenterhooks – and away from our stand – while the celebrities and Queen Elizabeth enjoy the show, so we only heard the happy news this 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 to be recognised as perhaps the world’s greatest biodiversity hot-spot. 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, drawing many of the over 150 000 visitors to the grounds of the Royal Hospital over the five days of the 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 to 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 our display is perfect in every way.

This year Lihle Dlamini, Alice Notten (Interpretation Officer at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden) and Sthembile Zondi (Horticulturist at KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden) worked hard to achieve the 34th Gold medal.


Issued on behalf of Kirstenbosch by HIPPO Communications: For further information please contact Jessica Miller on 021 554 6270 / 0784831045 or

Editor’s notes

NOTE: A concerted effort is made each year at the Chelsea Flower Show to showcase the broad botanical and cultural diversity of South Africa, as well as the geographic range of the National Botanical Gardens. However, it is important to recognize that the event is a celebration of spring, whereas for us in the southern hemisphere, the season is late Autumn. The predominance of flowers from the Cape Floral Kingdom shown at Chelsea is for the simple reason that the fynbos flowers mainly during winter, which is what makes our participation at the Chelsea Flower Show possible.

(* See brochure for more in-depth information)

Our History at the Chelsea Flower Show

Initially an image-building initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the immeasurable value of this event as a magnet for tourism has increased dramatically since the dawn of the New South Africa, in spite of the termination of government funding in 1995 in favour of other diplomatic expansion programmes. South Africa’s participation has been sponsored by various corporate entities since then to promote the country as a prime ecotourism destination and showcase one of the world’s richest and most diverse floral kingdoms. (A list of exhibits and awards appear on the inside covers of this brochure).

The South African Department of Foreign Affairs (Cultural Affairs, Bureau of Information) appointed a British floral designer, Pam Simcock, in 1976, to create the ‘South Africa’ exhibit on behalf of Kirstenbosch. By 1993 the exhibit had been awarded 17 Gold Medals and also won the Wilkinson Sword trophy for the ‘Best Overseas Exhibit’ for the four consecutive years that the award was made (1981 – 1984). The flowers, some of which were donated by various growers, were sourced and dispatched from Kirstenbosch to the South African Embassy in London each year. The National Botanical Gardens of South Africa (later the National Botanical Institute, and presently the South African National Biodiversity Institute [SANBI]) also sends a team of staff members to Chelsea every year to man the exhibit during the show week.

Since 1994 the exhibit has been sponsored by various South African businesses and banks, and more recently Kirstenbosch has raised funds by staging special Chelsea benefit concerts at the Garden. The design and construction has been undertaken by a core team from South Africa comprising David Davidson and Raymond Hudson as designers and a rotational group of SANBI staff members, assisted by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, from South Africa and abroad.

The design concept for the exhibit also changed at this juncture. It was decided to create landscaped exhibits that attempted to create a ‘sense of place’ and convey some idea of the actual geographical context reproduced in the displays, as well as endeavouring to answer some of the frequently asked questions about the plants, their growth forms, natural habitat and locality.

The designers

David Davidson and Raymond Hudson have been responsible for designing and creating the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibit for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 23 consecutive years, together with a small core team and an enthusiastic crew of volunteers. During this time the exhibit has garnered 16 RHS Gold Medals (bringing the total since 1976 to 34), as well as the Anthony Huxley Trophy (1995) and the Lawrence Medal for the best floral exhibit shown to the RHS in 2006. The exhibit was also the first recipient of the RHS President’s Most Creative Award, introduced at Chelsea in 2008. In 2015 the exhibit was awarded Silver Gilt.

Plants and art have always been David’s greatest passion, although he began his professional career in psychology and clinical social work. He later headed the Graphic Services Unit at the National Biodiversity Institute (Kirstenbosch) for 18 years – a role that included show design.

His current full-time occupation is as a graphic designer and scenic artist. He has also created floral exhibits in other parts of the world including Palmengarten, Germany; the Royal Flora Expo in Thailand; the Singapore Garden Festival and the Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan.

Raymond obtained a Diploma in Horticulture and gained his comprehensive practical training and work experience with the Durban Botanic Garden. He subsequently obtained a Diploma in Parks Administration at the John Brooks School of Landscape Design (1984).

Ray’s career in landscaping includes the design and management of numerous large estates and landscaping projects for Keith Kirsten Horticulture International such as the spectacular Cape wine estates of Delaire and Cavalli, whilst his speciality is domestic and small garden design.