Show gardens ambitions

As someone eyeing up a successful career in garden writing and garden design, joining the RHS has already  proved invigorating and eye-opening

Almost as soon as I had started my new RHS job I was at Chelsea – my first ever flower show. The prestige and quality of the show gardens was exceptional and the all-round atmosphere was intoxicating. It was at this point my suspicions about my own ambitions were confirmed: I realised I really had to have my own show gardens. After enthusiastically contacting the relevant people (, I experienced a rather disheartening period of radio silence, but my patience was rewarded three weeks later with an invitation to a future show gardens meeting at Hampton Court (my second ever show). With the benefit of hindsight, a response after three weeks in the height of the show season was pretty good!

Before attending the meeting, I hoped my limited experiences in the ‘real world’ of garden design wouldn’t be a hindrance and that I could still ride, and be an enthusiastic addition to, the wave of young designers featuring at recent RHS shows.

A warm welcome followed by a short spiel about what the show gardens are, what kinds there are and what the benefits are of completing one helped to reinforce my optimism and ambitions. The chance to be associated with the RHS at a world-famous show, the platform it can provide for a new or young garden designer's career and the overall recognition of ones skills and abilities from horticultural and design experts really resonated with me. My aforementioned optimism and ambition was then further boosted by the Show Manager, Dave Green, saying that they don’t like to say no to people who apply – there will always be room for manoeuvre, be it shifting to a different garden category or to a different show or year. Reassuringly, the RHS will always provide feedback and help in enabling, particularly new, designers in contact with the right people and on the right path.  Encouraging. This immediately meant my chances of having my own show gardens increased dramatically.

All well and good, but we have all heard about the reported costs of doing a show garden. Yes, the Chelsea ones have the potential to get extremely expensive - it’s not unheard of to hear costs of up to, and more than, 250,000 quid – but, luckily, the barriers are not quite as high at the other two high profile shows.  Even more encouraging.  With a mix of a recently introduced budget show gardens and grants from the RHS for some others, there is plenty to be optimistic about and, teamed with a bit of individual fundraising through the sourcing and tempting of sponsors and contractors, the money side of things starts to look significantly less off-putting. Though it’ll be good to confirm this when I meet the contenders of RHS Young Designer of the Year, an award that I would be tempted to apply for, at Tatton Park (my third ever show) this month.

Now, almost completely unperturbed, I can’t wait for the application processes for next year’s show gardens to open, to show off and receive recognition for my designs, be they budget, conceptual or full scale show gardens, and launch myself successfully into the business of designing and writing about gardens.

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