Showcasing the world’s richest and most diverse floral kingdoms
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, despite 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.
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 sent 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.