The Royal Agricultural Society Of Natal
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The 39th Garden Show took place during the weekend of 19 to 21 September and with good weather, saw 17 343 visitors.  This is a pleasing increase on 2013 when an attendance of 16 073 was recorded.

To complement the occasion, the event also saw the Society simultaneously hosting the International Clivia Conference and Exhibition, with displays that wowed the public.

Acknowledged to be the largest horticultural event of its kind in the southern hemisphere; the Show included some 80 gardens, ranging from the micro-trays submitted by schools through to 120 sqm feature displays, rivalling those of Chelsea in terms of design excellence.

To the extent that the occasion saw an enhanced number of exhibitors from out of province and abroad – primarily the result of the Clivia Conference – a decision was made by the Royal Agricultural Society to sponsor the re-construction of the 2014 South African National Kirstenbosch exhibit, award-winning Chelsea Flower Show exhibit; this being an eclectic mix of a number of elements including a floral tribute to Nelson Mandela.

The theme in 2014 was ‘Into the Future’ which whilst being largely non-restrictive; facilitated ‘out of the box’ thinking.

The Show continues to be a platform of display and marketing for numerous nurseries and specialist growers, who utilise the opportunity to present the latest plant material available including an ever-increasing indigenous component.

At the top of the ‘pecking order’, the event is an occasion to showpiece the expertise of the Parks Departments of many of South Africa’s municipalities as well as a number of corporate role players and landscapers.  Amongst others, these included Ethekwini (Durban), Cape Town, Mbombela (Nelspruit), Sol Plaatje (Kimberley), Kwadukuza (Stanger), uMhlathuze (Richards Bay), Manguang (Bloemfontein), the Spar Group, Don't Waste Services, the Gardener magazine, National Botanical Institute and Subaru.

The judging panel was made up of David Davidson (of Chelsea fame), Lindsay Gray, JJ van Rensburg and Derrich Gardner; all respected personalities closely aligned to horticulture.

So as to ensure the highest standards, displays were adjudicated independently of the offices of the Royal Agricultural Society in terms of the Chelsea Flower Show’s points criteria.  This differs from previous years where exhibits received a percentage score facilitating place ratings; quite simply if the judges adjudicated a display to be worthy of a gold or a silver, that decision without further conversion to a points factor, stood.  

On this basis the major awards in the Feature Garden categories were as follows:

Silver –

    •     uMhlathuze (Richards Bay)
    •     Kwadukuza (Stanger)
    •     Mangaung (Bloemfontein)
    •     Sol Plaatje (Kimberley)

Silver Gilt –

    •     Blackwoods
    •     Mbombela (Nelspruit)
    •     SANBI

Gold –

    •     Floriate Hall
    •     KZN Clivia Club display
    •     The Gardener magazine
    •     Ethekwini (Durban)
    •      /Gordon Stewart Landscaping
    •     Park Lane Spar/Garvin Landscape Designs
    •     City of Cape Town

The trophy awards were as follows:

  • Most improved – Sol Plaatje (Kimberley)
  • Best small feature garden – Pot Pourri Garden Club
  • Best first-time exhibitor – Subaru
  • Best feature garden on show –
  • CEO’s Choice – Mbombela (Nelspruit)
  • The Big Thinker award – The Gardener

By way of a separate exercise, the Show continues to invite the public to submit their input with a ‘People’s Choice’ vote.  The results – in this instance in terms of a 1 to 10 ranking – were:

  1. City of Cape Town
  2. Ethekwini (Durban)
  3. Park Lane Spar/Garvin Landscape Designs
  4. The SA National Chelsea exhibit
  5. The /Gordon Stewart Landscaping
  6. Kwadukuza (Stanger)
  7. Mbombela (Nelspruit)
  8. Pot Pourri Garden Club
  9. The Gardener magazine
  10. KZN Clivia Club display

The Hall of Orchids with an international array of exhibitors, remained a must-see for anyone interested in the sheer magnificence of this extraordinary plant and apart from eliciting praise and approbation from the public, good sales were reported.

For the enthusiastic gardener who does not aspire to being a technical expert, the Show catered for the design of 4 sqm gardens for individuals, groups and garden clubs, interested in displaying their talent in a relaxed but moderately competitive format.  Sadly only two entrants were received in this category but both displays were deemed to be of a good standard relative to the level of expertise of participants.

In her inimitable way, Tanya Visser again compéred Ready Steady Plant; an interesting and entertaining competition demonstrating the ability of participants to think laterally by designing and constructing a garden measuring 2x4m, utilising undisclosed material, in 20 minutes.  Despite time constraints and great pressure, the event is always fun and sees an interesting array of practical designs resulting.

The 900 square metre Happy Earth Hall formed an integral part of the Show with the emphasis being on sustainability. This, together with the Illovo floral icing cake expo (the largest display of its kind in the country), ongoing cooking demonstrations by the 1000 Hills Chef School in the Demo Kitchen and the presence of the Quilters Guild again elicited significant interest.

Internationally the ‘green conscience’ continues to evolve and by way of initiation in the formative years, the Show continued to focus on youth development via the inclusion of mini horticultural exhibits by school-going youngsters, many from rural areas, spanning grades 4 to 12.

The Royal Agricultural Society honey section is acknowledged to host the premier apiarian exhibit in South Africa and with a consequential and informative display, it didn’t fail to please.

As an adjunct within the Ready Steady Plant marquee, The Kidz Zone, introduced in 2013, for families with children between the ages of 2 and 10, was expanded to include a number of interactive components.  Parents were able to relax at the adjacent ‘Sunflower Tea Garden’ whilst children played ‘I Spy the Bug in the Box’ with the KZN Museum or a puppet show courtesy of the Happy Earth Forum.

Also in the main arena; for the first time, the Show incorporated a meaningful art component, overseen by the Southern Drakensberg Art Society and themed ‘Inspiration from the Mountains’.

The twin villages of Underberg and Himeville lying in the shadow of the Southern Drakensberg, a back-drop which has long been an inspiration for creativity; the exercise met expectations and will be repeated in future years.

Alongside the art marquee and by way of a further new addition, the Show saw the presence of the Orange River Cellars Wine Garden offering a range of wines from the Northern Cape together with appropriate fare and light music by The Hinds Brothers, Chilie & Dang, Jammo and Chris Jensen.

By way of providing added value for the family, a portion of the main arena was again allocated to dog agility displays and a 4X4 course, both of which continue to attract significant interest.

Per the norm in any exhibition, the organisers were confronted with a number of unexpected gremlins, primarily of a technical nature.  Whilst, in most instances, these were timeously solved in a quiet and professional manner, an ongoing ATM problem persisted throughout the weekend.  Regrettably this will have had some negative impact on sales and every effort will be made to avoid a repetition in 2015.

Whilst the all important anchor will forever remain the excellence of feature gardens, all in all, the Show afforded an enjoyable outing with its pleasing mix of activities.