David Davidson will be remembered for helping to lead the charge to Chelsea for more than two decades with exhibitions of South Africa’s floral heritage that won a clutch of gold medals at the prestigious flower show.
Mr Davidson, who died on Thursday October 11, was also well known for his fascinating talks on those entries for the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show.
Co-designed with Raymond Hudson for the show held each year in London in May, the duo designed entries over a span of 24 years.
During this time, their exhibits garnered 18 RHS gold medals, as well as several additional special awards.
Mr Davidson, who lived across from Rondebosch Common for many years, moved to Fish Hoek a few years ago.
Leon Kluge took over the reins from the multi-award winning designers this year and received gold for his “Iconic Landscapes” theme (“Nature and culture meet in Chelsea exhibit,” Tatler April 19)
Mr Davidson also exhibited at Nagasaki Subtropical Botanical Garden in Japan, Singapore Botanic Garden, and Ratchapruek Garden in Thailand.
Mr Davidson also designed and painted stage sets for 35 years, including the entire repertoire of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, many Broadway musical productions and numerous plays.
The first of these was Iolanthe, directed by Helen Houghton and staged in the Claremont Town Hall in 1976.
The set was painted in a tiny little hall in Tenby Road, Wynberg. Many other venues were subsequently used as workshops, including the vacant YWCA building in Long Street and the derelict theatre in Camps Bay, both of which are now thriving theatre venues.
Sets have been designed and staged in all of the spaces at both the Baxter and the Artscape theatre complexes. He also received numerous nominations and awards for best set.
Mr Davidson knew Leon Kluge, of Nelspruit, for many years. They won a silver medal for their collaboration on a design, “We Come in Peace: A garden of peace – and hope – from Africa”, in the Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan.
Mr Kluge said it was an absolute privilege to have worked with Mr Davidson for many years.
“It started with me being a volunteer at the Chelsea Flower Show for Kirstenbosch. Little did I know the path David and I would walk where he mentored me in becoming an international show gardener, teaching me the dos and don’ts and secrets into creating instant show gardens for the public that would take your breath away.
“He adored plants, designing, and was such a gifted writer, but what stood out was his kindness and patience with people. A human characteristic that is so rare to find,” said Mr Kluge.
“We have lost a true gardening master. He left his footprint deep into the gardening world, not only in South Africa but around the globe. I will miss him terribly, but his presence can be seen in all my gardens,” said Mr Kluge.
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) spokesperson, Sarah Struys, said Mr Davidson and Mr Hudson not only brought home 18 gold medals, but in 1995, the exhibit received the Anthony Huxley Trophy, and in 2006 the Lawrence Medal for the best floral exhibit shown to the RHS.
The exhibit went on to become the first recipient of the RHS President’s Most Creative Award in 2008, and in 2017 it received the RHS President’s Award.
Exhibiting and excelling at the Chelsea has put Kirstenbosch and its sister gardens in the Sanbi group in the spotlight internationally as botanical gardens and important tourism attractions.
Visited by more than one million people every year, Kirstenbosch is recognised as one of the top seven botanical gardens in the world, and is one of the Cape Town Big 6 tourism attractions.
“David’s outstanding exhibits have played a vital role in putting the Sanbi gardens on the international map and attracting international visitors to our country,” said Ms Struys.
She said behind the scenes at Chelsea, David mentored many horticulturists from the Sanbi gardens, as well as gardening industry professionals and students from around the country, providing them with important skills to further their careers.
“Even before he became our Chelsea designer, David was a Sanbi (then NBI), employee as a graphic designer. Multi-talented as he was, he worked with many different Sanbi people over the years as a floral designer, graphic designer and writer.
“David will be sorely missed at Sanbi and Kirstenbosch, not only for his exceptional work, but also for his warm and caring nature. We have lost a very dear friend,” said Ms Struys.
Horticulturist and gardener, Keith Kirsten said words could not describe the loss of David Davison to the Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens and the Botanical Society members and all gardeners countrywide who knew him.
“He was always friendly, polite and a helping hand wherever it was needed and never expected a reward. And as co-designer of the Chelsea exhibit he made South Africa proud,” said Mr Kirsten.