Maybe I’m a bit nosey ( I prefer to call it inquisitive), but I like to know what’s going on. For instance, I always enjoy exhibitions, shows etc, much more when I know a bit about the background. So I thought you’d like to hear about how Show Gardens are judged at the Chelsea Flower Show, if you’re visiting the Show, or watching it on T.V., you’ll enjoy the experience much more after reading my interview with Andrew Wilson, teacher, author, garden designer and RHS judge for the past 17 years.
I’ve known Andrew for a few years and I’ve always enjoyed discussing garden design with him, so I knew he’d be the perfect choice for my questions.
- With the Chelsea Flower Show just weeks away, you’re coming up to a busy time, when do you start selecting show gardens for the Chelsea Flower Show?
Due to changes in RHS regulations I’m longer the Chairman of the Selection Panel for Chelsea– this leaves me open to assess and judge. However, the panel meets three times, starting in September. The last meeting is usually in late October or early November. The process allows for selection and for comments to be made about submissions, allowing the designer time to respond.
- Can you outline your role as a Judge and Assessor for the R.H.S.?
At present the process of judging starts with assessment, I’ll be the Chair of Assessors for the larger show gardens. On the Sunday at the start of Chelsea week, my team of three will firstly meet the various designers for a short presentation and discussion whichallows any last minutechanges or issues to be raised, giving us a better understanding of the exhibit. We will then look at the gardens in detail and discuss & debate our findings. The RHS system has a series of elements that need consideration such as:
- the design character
- planting design
- construction quality of the garden
We allocate marks and thus come to a proposal for an award. Assessors will already have read in detail the briefing information that exhibitors (Designers) produce for each garden.
Our notes and comments are copied for all judges (normally seven in total which includes the three assessors). The thinking behind the award is presented verbally to judges on the Monday morning of Chelsea week and judges can then question or further debate the gardens and the proposed awards. A vote is taken and the medal agreed by the judges.
In one final stage, the proposed medals go into moderation – a quality control mechanism that seeks to provide consistency across all show garden exhibits. At this point the medal is finally agreed and awarded. The assessors thus set the initial level of the medal but can then be called upon to defend or explain, justify or support an award through these various stages.
After the medal is awarded, exhibitors are entitled to feedback. The Chair of Judges and the Chair of Assessors deliver the feedback together, normally on the Tuesday of Chelsea week.
- You’re a founding director at The London School of Garden Design and have your own garden design practise, how do these roles contribute to the task of judging show gardens?
First and foremost I am a designer – that was my original ambition and intention and it remains my principle focus. However, I have also been a teacher of garden design and landscape architecture since 1985 in both the private and university sector. Assessment, feedback, explanations of design theory, spatial character etc are all part of this teaching process and many of the techniques and systems are similar to those required in RHS judging. My teaching also makes me reflect on my own design approach. I also write (currently on book no 12 I think) and this in turn allows for reflection on process and end product of that process. I think that an objective approach to one’s own work, the ability to know and understand when something is either “fab” or “shite” (key words that anyone associated with the AW approach will recognise), is essential. This thinking and analysis can then be applied to the work of other designers – an essential ability to discern, to be incisive but, more importantly, to be able to explain that decision making are key tools in the various fields in which I’m involved.
Hope you enjoyed this, look out for part 2 next week, talking about Show Garden trends and changes over recent years.
You can buy tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show 22-26 May here
Andrew Wilson www.wmstudio.co.uk
images Jill Anderson