What’s it like to judge the show gardens at Chelsea, asks Jodie Jones
Roger Platts has been judging RHS show gardens for so long that he can’t quite remember when he started. “Even after all these years I never lose the sense that it’s a real honour to be able to do this, but also a huge responsibility,” he says. “Way back, before my time, it used to be members of council who did the judging. These days there is a combination of designers, horticulturists, landscapers and other related professionals, which I think allows us to take a more rounded view.
“Since I joined the judging panel the emphasis has been on constantly reviewing and refining the process. It is essential that we judge fairly, but it is also very important that we give feedback in the best way possible.”
Until this year, that feedback was presented verbally, which has, on occasion, led to some high-profile upsets. “The timing was always tricky,” says Roger. “You need to have the garden in front of you to discuss it, but immediately after judging a designer is likely to be tired, so not in the best state of mind to take comments on board.”
With this in mind, the RHS has been trialling a system of written feedback sheets which are to be used officially for the first time at Chelsea this year. “I hope the designers will see this as a positive development,” says Roger.
“I don’t think the new system will make any difference to the results – it’s not going to change the number of Golds awarded or anything like that. The assessment sheets will simply allow us to give feedback in a measured way so there should be more clarity, and less chance that an unfortunately worded comment can be misinterpreted.
“We are still looking for the same things we always have – creativity and quality, full stop,” he continues. “Superb plantsmanship and impeccable attention to detail should be the start point. Where a designer goes with that is the exciting part.”