Designer leaves creative legacy behind

Winning team 2015, the 40th year of SANBI Chelsea entries, Raymond Hudson and David Davidson at the launch at Kirstenbosch.

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 and held each year in London in May, the duo designed entries over a span of 24 years.

During this time, their exhibits have garnered 18 RHS gold medals, as well as several additional special awards.

Mr Davidson, who livedacrossfrom 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.

Mr Davidson also exhibited at Nagasaki SubtropicalBotanical Garden in Japan, Singapore Botanic Garden, and Ratchapruek Garden in Thailand.

The Royal Flora Expo Ratchapruek was an international event to commemorate the 80th birthday of King Bumibol of Thailand and also the 60th year of his reign.

Governments from around the world were invited to create the “Gardens for the King” sector of the event, which brought about the establishment of a permanent new park.

Ratchapruek is the name of the tree (Cassia fistula) chosen to represent the king because of its yellow flower – the colour representing the month in which he was born.

The South African exhibit, funded by the then Department of Agriculture, was created in record time. More than three million people visited the show, and the park was reopened later as a permanent recreation facility in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Mr Davidson was invited to participate at this event in 2008 (held for the first time in 2006) and again in 2010 as one of the international creators of a fantasy garden.

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.