Food in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch has represented South Africa at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show for 37 years, bringing home 32 gold medals for exceptional exhibits – such as these displays, seen at recent shows.

The early collectors introduced to the world the botanical marvels of the Cape, but Kirstenbosch was not placed firmly on the horticultural map until Director Brian Rycroft promoted the Garden at international flower shows in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Monaco and the United States. Nowhere has the contribution of exhibits from Kirstenbosch been more successful than at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Food in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Photo Gallery

Chelsea is rightly regarded as the world’s premier event of gardening excellence. The Kirstenbosch exhibit was, for many years, financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and built by an English flower arranger. From 1990, the Ministry withdrew its funding, and a private sector sponsor had to be found. A plea for support placed in the Cape Times drew an immediate response from Ian Sims, Chairman of Syfrets, an old Cape Town financial institution, and the long tradition of a Kirstenbosch exhibit at Chelsea could be continued. To make the project truly South African, David Davidson, graphic designer at Kirstenbosch, was chosen to lead the team With the assistance of Raymond Hudson, a Johannesburg horticulturist, Davidson created a winning exhibit, won a gold medal, and has continued an unbroken record of success ever since. In the past 37 years, the Kirstenbosch exhibit has won 32 gold medals, several silver gilt medals and one silver medal. More importantly, Chelsea has attracted thousands of garden tourists to the Cape, and countless friends and supporters to the Garden.

Many thousands ofpelargonium hybrids and cultivars – gardening favourites for over 200 years – have been bred by British horticulturists.

The most successful, but poorly acknowledged, export from South Africa, besides gold and diamonds, is the genetic material on which the massive ‘geranium’ pot-plant industry of Europe and other regions is based. Early collectors at the Cape amassed vast collections of plants for transfer back to the gardens of Europe. None proved more responsive to cultivation and hybridisation than members of the genus Pelargonium. Of the 220 species in South Africa, 119 of which are in the Garden, about 80 per cent are confined to the winter-rainfall area of the Cape. Hybrids of the original gene pool adorn nearly every garden and flower box in Europe. That not a cent in royalties has ever been paid for this national genetic resource is a matter of irritation to many who believe in the hopes and principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity. But the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of South Africa’s rich horticultural resources had been plucked long before modern concepts of intellectual property and sovereign ownership of genetic resources had been placed on the political agenda.

Two of the worst invasive plants originating in South Africa are now serious weeds in their adoptive lands: in California, Sour Fig Carpobrotus edulis (Top), and in Australia, Bietou Chrysanthemoides monilifera (above).

While we are increasingly aware of the effects of alien invasive species in South Africa, especially Port Jackson wattles, Rooikrans, hakeas and pines that infest both lowland and mountain fynbos, we are often unaware of what we, too, have given the world in aggressive invaders.

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