Judging at RHS Shows

Ever wondered how the judges choose the medal-winning gardens at RHS Shows? Read our easy guide to find out more

Jackie Knight's Garden at RHS Chatsworth 2017

RHS Shows provide a rich source of horticultural delight. The floral displays are the most stunning you’re likely to see anywhere in the world and the gardens are created by the very best designers at the top of their game.
Receiving an RHS Gold medal, or even better – being judged as the Best in Show - for a garden at an RHS Show is the ultimate accolade. But how are the results decided? Below is a handy Q&A explaining how the judging process works for the gardens…

Who are the judges?

Our team of judges are highly experienced experts from across the horticultural industry. They are trained by the RHS in how to judge using the RHS criteria but are independent of the RHS.

Together, the judging panel holds a massive and diverse amount of knowledge and skill from the horticultural, gardening and design world.

We have a panel of judges consisting of three assessing judges and four regular judges. We also have a ‘moderator’ who keeps watch and ensures consistency is applied throughout the process.

How are gardens judged?

Gardens are marked against a set of key criteria (see below) but importantly, they are also marked against the designer’s written brief – has the designer done what he or she said they were going to do? Or in other words – would we have a happy client?

What is a garden brief?

Designers submit a brief well in advance of the show and this includes the following points:

  • Description of the garden
  • Purpose of the garden
  • Function of the garden
  • Key plants and features 

So, judges should expect to see what they were told they were going to see and if they don’t, no matter how stunning, fabulous and beautiful the garden is, it means that something has gone wrong somewhere along the way and it will be marked down as a result.

This could mean that a garden that appears to be Gold standard may only get a Silver Gilt – or even less –  because it doesn’t match up to the brief. Perhaps a key feature of the design, such as a sculpture, specimen tree or feature integral to the garden has had to be changed during the build process.

So what are the criteria?

As well as meeting the brief, there’s a number of other criteria for which the judges give the following marks: Excellent (four points), Very Good (three points), Good (two points), Poor (one point), and Unsatisfactory (zero)

  • Ambition – how original is the design? Is there theatre, flair, atmosphere and impact?
  • Overall impression – does the garden work as a whole? How fine is the finish and attention to detail?
  • Design – does the garden work for its supposed purpose? 
  • Construction – how good is the quality of the build?
  • Planting – think colour, impact, composition, health but also – would these plants live and survive together?

Does judging happen all at once like on The X Factor?

No - there are three stages to judging: Assessing, Judging and Moderation.
Stage 1: Assessment – three judges will visit the garden to hear a short presentation from the designer; this is an opportunity for the designer to highlight any changes or developments to the brief. The judges will then assess the garden against each of the criteria and briefs.
Stage 2: Judging – the three assessing judges are joined by four other judges who will visit the garden one more time to decide on a medal. If there’s no clear decision, further discussion and a re-vote will occur until the panel agrees.
Stage 3: Moderation – a moderator (experienced judge) will listen to the judges’ vote and thinking to ensure consistency. The medal will then be confirmed and the garden with the highest score will win Best in Show.
If more than one garden scores the same, further discussion and a vote will occur.

What about the floral displays?

We have a different team of judges who assess the beautiful displays in the Great Pavilion. Among the elements they take into account is the endeavour of the display, how difficult it was to put together, how much of a challenge the planting has been, any new ideas or originality as well as overall impression.

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