Nature and culture meet in Chelsea exhibit

Five of seven volunteers who will be going to the Chelsea Flower Show, from left, are. Roben Penny from Kalk bay, Norah de Wet from Plumstead, Tentia Hobbs from Stellenbosch, Annaliese Skein, also from Stellenbosch and Linda Keevy from Tokai.

Leon Kluge is the new designer of the Kirstenbosch-South Africa Chelsea Flower Show exhibit which was launched in the conservatory at Kirstenbosch yesterday, Wednesday April 18.

This will be the 43rd year that South African National Botanical Institute (SANBI)-Kirstenbosch has been exhibiting – and winning medals – at the Chelsea Flower Show.

This year it takes place from Tuesday May 22 to Saturday May 26 and the theme of this year’s exhibit is Iconic Landscapes – where nature and culture meets.

“South Africa is a treasure-house of iconic landscapes.

They abound in nature and the natural environment but also in the cultural landscapes that contain and define them,” says Leon.

He is taking over the reins from the award-winning team of David Davidson and Raymond Hudson who have designed and created the Kirstenbosch-South Africa exhibits at Chelsea for 24 consecutive years, together with a small core team and an enthusiastic crew of volunteers.

During this time the exhibit has garnered 18 Royal Horticultural Society gold medals, bringing the total to 33 since 1976.

However, the task of bringing home gold from the event is nothing new for the avant-garde landscape architect who has created spectacular gardens for the rich and famous all over the globe.

Leon has been involved in the international show gardening arena for the past 12 years, including the COP 17 Legacy Garden in the Durban Botanical Gardens
in 2011; the Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan 2014; the Philadelphia flower show in America; Singapore, New Zealand; the Sacheon Botanical gardens in South-Korea; Chaumont in France; and in Eden, Australia.

His designs have been published in various coffee table books by Braun publishing company.

Leon says this year’s Chelsea exhibit takes a light-hearted approach to the style in which the landscapes are presented by using powerful and iconic forms of
contemporary township art that depict cultural life in these landscapes. “I was in Khayelitsha photographing arum lilies and having coffee at Lookout Hill when I got inspired by the view of Table
Mountain with the houses of Khayelitsha in the foreground, blending in with the landscape of indigenous flora,” he says.

He saw this blend of nature and culture depicted in the colourful creations of the local crafters.

This is where he met Elmon Muringani, a crafter in the area since 2006, and invited him to create the artwork that will form the backdrop of the exhibit.

The design starts off with the Mother City and of course its Table Mountain National Park, often associated with the Cape Floral Region or fynbos biome, then travels northwards along the iconic West Coast with its very different vegetation of succulent forms and the architectural styles that make this home to the West Coast fishermen, and then moves north to Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumulanga with its own unique and diverse flora.

From an early age, Leon has nurtured a great affinity for plants; his grandfather was the curator of the Betty’s Bay Botanical Garden and his father was the curator of the Lowveld National Botanical Garden, while his mother owns and runs a renowned wholesale nursery in Nelspruit.

On completing his degree in landscape technology in 2002, he worked on the main display
garden at Marvadesh Givatt Brenner Nursery in Israel. From there he progressed to become the head landscape designer for Societe Nel Import and Export Company in Mayotte, Comores Islands.
After his return from the Comores, Leon started the award-winning
Fever Tree Nursery in Nelspruit.

He now lives in Loop Street in the city centre during the working week and escapes to his beach cottage in Britannia Bay at the weekends.