Growing chrysanthemums is the pride and joy of the Dwarsrivier Valley. This floral tradition and cultures dates back to the early 1900s.
The Stellenbosch Horticulture and Industrial Society was established in 1962 with the goal to grow the largest, best and most perfect chrysanthemum flowers in all available cultivars.
The founding members of the society were Leonard Gabriels, Alfred Williams, AP Lamberts, WA Stone and H Muller, all well-known businessmen at the time. Muller is the only living founding member and is still an active member of the society today.
The knowledge to grow chrysanthemums as an exhibition flower was transferred over the years from founding members to the current active members. These members received no formal education in horticulture but their knowledge of how to grow this unique flower was learnt through attending practical workshops at the homes of the members.
Did you know: The Chrysanthemum flower originates from China and was originally used for herbal tea, says Richard Williams, treasurer of the National Chrysanthemum Society of South Africa. There are different species and cultivars of chrysanthemums, according to Williams. “In most cases [for growing] we used the old English cultivars. These days with the men bringing in new flowers, we use Japanese cultivars and Chinese cultivars,” he says.
Who is Richard Williams?
Richard Williams, treasurer and co-founder of the The National Chrysanthemum Society of South Africa (NCSSA), is somewhat of a celebrity when it comes to the growing and showcasing of the beautiful chrysanthemum flower.
He is also the secretary and show-secretary of the Pniel Horticultural and Industrial Society.
Pioneer growers of the Dwarsrivier valley Mr Bernard Mentoor, Richard Williams’ father-in-law, and Mr Freddie Simpson, started the Pniel Horticultural and Industrial Society in 1981. The first event was hosted at the POSV hall. The mandate, as stated by the group, is to foster and promote horticulture and home industries amongst the inhabitants of Pniel and surrounding villages and farms.
Every year, during the first two weeks of May, an exhibition of the year’s flowers is held for the public. The society has also hosted the national competition, and yielded positive results with their blooms considered to be of a very high standard.
The event also invites participation from non-members. Surrounding primary schools are invited to participate in an art competition and the event also hosts a home industries sector where various homemade foods are judged and awarded prizes.
We sat down with Richard Williams for a little Q&A:
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what you do for a living and what do you love most about the Dwarsrivier valley?
A: I was born and still live in Pniel. I was the principal at Idas Valley Primary School and retired last year after 39 years in teaching.
I am currently the secretary of the Pniel Horticultural and Industrial Society and the treasurer of the National Chrysanthemum Society of SA. I am also the show organizing secretary of the society. I love the Dwarsrivier Valley, because of its location. We are between mountains and a very green valley and are not too far from the big malls, sea and airport.
Q: When did you start growing Chrysanthemums and where did you learn about this beautiful flower? When did your love for this art start?
A: I started growing chrysanthemums in 1991. I learnt the growing of chrysanthemums from my father-in-law. Before my marriage I helped as a steward at the chrysanthemum shows. I helped the growers to stage their flowers and walk with the judges as an assistant. I learnt a lot during these activities.
Q: What tips and tricks can you share with aspiring chrysanthemum growers?
A: First of all, you must grow chrysanthemums for the love of it. You must be willing to spend time (9 months) and some money. Your only reward will be the beautiful flowers. Join a local society and learn from the experienced members. Attend workshops and read books about growing chrysanthemums. If you put your flowers in a show, make sure it is formed, fresh and clean.
Image description: Mr Bernard Mentoor and Visit Stellenbosch CEO Jeanneret Momberg
Q: We believe your father-in-law is also one of the pioneer growers of Dwarsrivier and also started the Pniel Horticulture and Industrial Society. Tell us a bit more of his role in your life when it comes to the shared love of growing the Chrysanthemum and also the role he plays in Dwarsrivier.
A: Yes, my father-in-law, Mr Bernard Mentoor, is according to me, the Chrysanthemum King. He won many trophies for Champion Bloom and Champion Grower (most points). He is my mentor in growing chrysanthemums. We plan together for the growing season and share information. We help each other in the garden and during the show week. We also present workshops for aspiring growers in the Dwarsrivier.
Q: When was the first chrysanthemum festival in Pniel?
A: The first exhibition of chrysanthemums in Pniel was in 1981 in the POSV Hall.
Q: Why is this festival so important to the growers and locals of Dwarsrivier?
A: The festival is very important for the growers to show off their “babies” after nine months. It is also a very good tourism attraction for the Dwarsrivier Valley and the local entrepreneurs who can sell their goods to the visitors attending the festival.
Q: What can the public look forward to for this year’s Chrysanthemum Festival?
A: Anything can happen with the flowers before the day of the festival, but I am very positive that the public will have a heart-warming experience. Different sizes, shape and colours of chrysanthemum will be exhibited.