Trinidad and Tobago has been awarded a gold medal by the Royal Horticultural Society at the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show in London for its presentation This Our Native Land.
This triumph is especially poignant and bittersweet in light of the passing of Bernard Beckles, the team's design lead, who died suddenly on May 3, a media release said.
It fell to floral designer and Beckles protégé Shane Valentine to take up the mantle as lead designer for TT at the world’s most prestigious flower show. Valentine worked alongside Beckles at La Tropicale Flower Shop in St James.
"It was a bit daunting at first," he said in the release. "But it was Bernard who transformed me from being an ordinary worker in the back to being independent and bold enough to execute my ideas."
Valentine reached out to Tobago floral artist Neave McKenzie to join the team for the London campaign, “I know his ideas and we work well together."
The team arrived in London with more than 50 boxes of plant material on May 17. On arrival, the TT High Commission in London helped them with ground transport and storage.
Once at the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, Valentine and McKenzie worked with team leader Tony Tang Kai, Melissa Lee Foon, Andre Crawford and Simone Taylor to fulfil Beckles's desire to complete a hat-trick of golds with the trilogy that started in 2013 with Cazabon and Rhythms of A People in 2019.
Tang Kai was relieved at the result and admitted to feeling emotional as he thought about his friend and colleague Beckles.
"Bernard would have been so proud of us, and especially of the younger members of the team who worked so hard for this gold medal. This is for him." he said.
"We've been heartened by the congratulatory messages from Trinis everywhere. We're also sharing this moment with our Caribbean neighbours Barbados and Grenada, who are also taking home gold medals."
Tang Kai said the team is grateful to all those who assisted and supported this campaign to Chelsea.
"It wasn't easy getting here this year, but we are glad we persevered. We look forward to saying thanks in person to all who helped in some way, shape or form. We're happy to have done the country proud."
Up to 200,000 people are expected to visit the Chelsea Flower Show before it closes on May 27.
The TT team returns from London on May 30.