On Saturday 9th April 2016, Martin Fish came to talk to us about judging for the RHS. I mistakenly thought it was going to be about judging for the RHS In Bloom competition, but it wasn’t – it was about judging at the RHS shows – Chelsea, Tatton Park, Harrogate and so on.
Martin has been a professional gardener since leaving school, when he was apprenticed to the local Parks department. After his apprenticeship finished he did a spell in College and soon became head gardener at Rufford Abbey, which he left to start his own nursery. After 20 years of running his nursery he branched out into lecturing, writing and local radio, and was soon invited to be President and then Director of the Harrogate Flower Show, which kept him occupied for eight years.
Although he had shown at RHS shows himself when he ran his nursery, it was at Harrogate where his relationship with the RHS really began. He now regularly judges show gardens and nursery marquees at any RHS show in the country.
Many years ago, judging at RHS shows was riddled with nepotism with the prizes being won by the judges’ friends rather than on merit. Because of this, several years ago the RHS made a concerted effort to make judging fair, open and honest.
Strict criteria are applied to every decision made, and each judge goes through rigorous training to gain their accreditation – which also has to be renewed every three years.
Awards given range from ‘no award’ through bronze, silver, silver gilt, all the way up to gold, but unfortunately no medals are awarded any more, just certificates (though they do come with a small cash award too).
Judging is always done before the Show opens. In the case of Chelsea, that means at 7am on Monday morning!
Judging criteria for nursery marquees includes things such as
- are the chosen plants relevant to the display?
- what is the overall quality of the display?
- how much effort has been put in to the display?
For the show gardens, there are nine criteria:
- realisation of the client’s brief
- ambition (atmosphere, flair, impact)
- overall impression
- design layout
- 3d design
- quality of construction
- planting design
- plant associations
- planting (quality, health and density)
Judging is done in groups of 4-6 judges, and each decision they make is voted on. There are also three moderators per show, who are there to make sure that judging between the different groups of judges is consistent.
The standard of entries is so high that even the tiniest flaw, such as a wrongly labelled plant, or too many buds and not enough flowers, can mean the difference between a Gold and a ‘no award’.