Grootbos Private Nature Reserve played a significant role in South Africa’s triumphant return to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where the country not only secured a gold medal with perfect scores from the RHS judges but also won the ‘Best Exhibit in the Pavilion’ and the ‘Best New Design’ awards. This remarkable achievement is unprecedented for South Africa at the Chelsea Flower Show.

After a four-year hiatus and the withdrawal of a long-standing sponsor, a private sector-led team emerged to ensure South Africa’s flora was once again represented at this prestigious event. Key members of this team included Leon Kluge, an acclaimed plantsman and landscape designer, Keith Kirsten, conservationist Michael Lutzeyer, and Marinda Nel. The financial backing from the Rupert Nature Foundation and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, along with numerous contributions from the private sector, was crucial in bringing this display to life in London.

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and Michael Lutzeyer contributed significantly to the project with their focus on conservation and community upliftment. The Grootbos Florilegium, a collection of botanical illustrations showcasing rare plants from the reserve, was a highlight of the exhibit. Keith Kirsten added his extensive international experience and expertise, having been involved in the South African exhibit for many decades at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Marinda Nel played a pivotal role in managing the logistics and coordination necessary for South Africa’s successful return.

Cape Flora SA, a non-profit established in 2005, also supported this year’s display, emphasising the sustainable harvesting and growth of the fynbos industry. The exhibit aimed to increase international demand for high-quality fynbos cut flowers, providing livelihoods for stakeholders and communities within South Africa.

The design, inspired by the windswept slopes of the Cape mountains, was described as one of the most outstanding exhibits in the history of the Great Pavilion. Leon Kluge and artist Tristan Woudberg led a team of volunteers to create a multi-award-winning display featuring large clay sculptures that provided a striking backdrop for a stunning array of fynbos cut flowers. This achievement marked Leon Kluge’s third gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show, having previously won in 2018 and 2019.

The display showcased a multitude of species, from high-altitude fynbos to coastal strandveld rich with bulbs, celebrating the biodiversity of the Cape region. An unprecedented 22 000 stems were used, including rarely seen hybrids like the Protea ‘Snow Leopard’, Protea sulphurea, and Serruria florida, known as blushing brides.

Artist Tristan Woudberg explained the significance of the natural clay sculptures: “Large panels weave through the display, creating an earthy backdrop for our vibrant flora to take centre stage. The sculptures mimic mountain ranges, dividing and isolating the Cape’s unique biomes. The natural cracking effect of the clay symbolises the contrasting wet and dry seasons of the fynbos biome and the fragility of these ecosystems. The negative spaces in these sheets of rock act as windows, offering new vistas to explore as one moves around the exhibit.”

The collaboration of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and other key contributors ensured that South Africa’s flora not only returned to the Chelsea Flower Show but did so with unprecedented success and acclaim.