South African medallion for the Queen at Chelsea Flower Show 

Meeting the Queen is something that every exhibitor at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show (CFS) hopes for. Being able to personally hand over a souvenir of one of the displays is a dream.


For Lihle Dlamini, Marketing and Communications Director of SANBI and Alan Demby, Chairman of the South African Gold Coin Exchange (SACGE) and major sponsor of The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Kirstenbosch – South Africa exhibit, the dream came true yesterday when Queen Elizabeth ll made her traditional tour of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Presenting her with a Gold Medallion minted in honour of the late Nelson Mandela, which bears his image on the obverse and Mandela’s Gold Strelitzia on the reverse, was the high moment for both Dlamini and Demby.


Tribute to Nelson Mandela. Kirstenbosch exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Kay Montgomery

Tribute to Nelson Mandela. Kirstenbosch exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Kay Montgomery

Prior to the show, and at the instigation of Demby, SANBI had sent a letter to the Queen inviting her to visit the Kirstenbosch – South African exhibit. Honouring the invitation, her first stop on her CFS tour was our stand when the team presented her with this commemorative medallion. Truly a golden moment!


This year our exhibit was awarded a Silver Gilt medal notching up yet another medal in the 39 years of exhibiting.  The innovative exhibit, ‘In Harmony with Nature’, had already attracted much interest from media, celebrities and the Royal family on preview day on Monday.


Chairman of the SAGCE, Alan Demby said: “We were so excited at being able to present the Gold Medallion to the Queen and this is certainly the highlight of our involvement. Being awarded a Silver Gilt Medal perfectly underlines our synergy with our national heritage. Our coins illustrate how important it is to preserve this heritage and celebrate the biodiversity of South Africa. Design influenced by nature is evident in our ranges and coupled with the unique Mandela tribute illustrates yet again our commitment. The Mandela’s Gold Strelitzia at Kirstenboschhas been the inspiration for the limited edition Gold Mandela medallion which, one of which we presented to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth ll.”


Exhibiting at this ‘Olympics’ of Flower shows is one of the major tourism  opportunities to promote South Africa and its rich natural biodiversity and its cultural heritage and, with more than 150 000 visitors to the show over the next four days (20 to 24 May) the South African stand is always a major attraction. For the fourth year the South African gold Coin Exchange (SAGCE) and Scoin shops have sponsored the exhibit.



The theme of ‘In Harmony with Nature’is this year’s SANBI Kirstenbosch – South Africa exhibit. The wealth of design inspiration paired with our rich natural biodiversity shows how architectural creativity has ‘borrowed’ from nature and is coupled with our cultural diversity.  A unique tribute to the late Nelson Mandela added to the four dioramas that make up the stand, perfectly reflects the spirit of the country. Being awarded the Silver Gilt Medal was a welcome 21st birthday ‘gift‘for the two designers David Davidson and Raymond Hudson, who have been creating these unusual and innovative displays for that number of years.


The display features dioramas of four different habitats:

  • The Enchanted Forest habitat at Kirstenbosch is also home to the newly constructed ‘Boomslang’ (Tree Snake) Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway. Designed to mimic the sinuous skeletal frame of a snake, the walkway is more than just a traditional boardwalk structure. Like a snake, it winds and dips and is, in essence, a highly sophisticated bridge. Every part of its complex skeletal design contributes visually to its serpentine quality and structurally to the stability of the walkway.This display features the walkway and plants of the forest under storey, including various species of Plectranthus, Clivia, Scadoxus and other forest floor-dwelling plants.
  • Canopy Walk. Kirstenbosch entry at Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Kay Montgomery

    Canopy Walk. Kirstenbosch entry at Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Kay Montgomery

    This representation of a pristine and functional ecosystem nestled in a mountain ravine habitat, like Skeleton Gorge on Table Mountain, will feature an extension of the ‘snake skeleton’ that inspired the design of Kirstenbosch’s Tree Canopy Walkwayand moisture-loving plants. Ecosystem servicesare one of South Africa’s greatest assets – its biodiversity richness in terms of landscapes, ecosystems and species provides goods and services such as pure water, grazing, fisheries, medicine, energy, food, pollination, carbon sinks and clean air. Sustaining intact and pristine ecosystems – the web of natural life – is vital for human wellbeing and the survival of the planet.

·         The Savanna habitat of Limpopo Province, with its mixed bushveld vegetation, is the location of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. Its Interpretive Centre used modern developments in structural geometry along with an ancient construction technique to implement a unique and beautiful structure, authentically rooted to its location and awarded World Building of the Year (2009). This display features grassland vegetation including Xerophyta, aloes and thorn trees as well as a ‘bird’s nest’ hide.

South African exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Kay Montgomery

South African exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Kay Montgomery

·         A contemporary fynbos garden will feature flora of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Fynbos being the collective term referring to the uniquely diverse Cape Floral Kingdom, this display features an exuberant mix of signature species including proteas, leucadendrons (cone bushes), restios, ericas and bulbous flowering plants.


The display shows clearly how SANBI is achieving its mandate across the country by championing our exceptionally rich, life-sustaining biodiversity through exploration, conservation, sustainable use, appreciation and enjoyment for all South Africans. South Africa occupies only 0.8% of the world’s land area yet is home to nearly 3% of the world’s plants and approximately 7% of its reptiles, birds and mammals. This makes South Africa the third most biodiverse country in the world (following Indonesia and Brazil).


Dr Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of SANBI was very happy with the outcome. ‘’ Being able to meet the Queen and being awarded a medal is a privilege. This opportunity to show the world our unique biodiversity and the harmony between nature and architectureis a source of great pride. The Tree Top walkway or “boomslang’ featured in the exhibit is a perfect example of how nature has inspired architecture and visitors to Kirstenboschare now able to enjoy this new attraction. Our biodiversity is a national asset and the role that we have in its conservation is vital. Chelsea gives us the opportunity to highlight this and encourage many more visitors to the country and to enjoy the uniqueness of our network of nine National Botanical Gardens.”


Says David Davidson: “This is really a ‘coming of age’ exhibitand award and the interest already shown in the display has been overwhelming. Showing how nature inspires new architectural developments offers an unusual view for visitors to the South African stand. But it is the team who make this display happen who should be congratulated as without them we would never be able to achieve what we do in the few days we have to complete the stand.”


It is always a rush to finish the stand on Sunday before the judges visit each display on Monday to make their recommendations, but nothing compromises the quality of the finished display. Teamwork is the name of the game and led by SANBI’s Director of Marketing& Communications,Ms Lihle Dlamini, as Project Coordinator on site, the tension is high. The South African team of Roger Oliver, (Kirstenbosch Horticulturist) Elton le Roux (Kirstenbosch Estate Manager) and Azwinndini Mudau (Horticulturist from the Free State National Botanical Garden) are joined by enthusiastic volunteers, many of whom travel from South Africa, and expats living in London. The pride in winning is the reward for long hours of work.


With more than 550 exhibits the Chelsea Flower Show is a paradise of unusual displays from all over the world and competition is hot!Being awarded a medal is the ultimate goal for all entrants.There is a rush by exhibitors to get into the show early on Tuesday morning to see what their stand has won and then it is over to the public to admire the winners and take inspiration from the magnificent array that spreads before them.


The good news for South Africans and visitors to our country is that the exhibit will be recreated at Garden World in Johannesburg as part of their annual Spring Festival, which opens in July.

 Issued by HIPPO Communications