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Judging at RHS Shows


There is nothing quite like the controversy of who gets (or doesn’t get) Gold medals at RHS Shows. To the casual observer, the judging process may seem shrouded in secrecy and mystery, and it can be hard to understand why your favourite garden didn’t get a Gold. However, behind the scenes the judging process is as objective as possible.

The first thing that may be difficult to understand is that there is no limit to the number of medals that can be awarded in each grade. Any number of gardens or floral exhibits can be awarded the much-coveted Gold medal.

The next thing is that each exhibit is judged on its own merit – that is, they are not compared to each other.

Judging floral exhibits
Over the past couple of years, the RHS has trialled a number of different judging methods and has decided to adopt a point-based system that will be used to judge exhibits in the Floral Marquee, RHS Grow Your Own Marquee, Lewis Carroll’s Alice-themed Rose Festival Marquee and Plant Heritage Marquee.

There are seven panels of judges (each panel is made up of 5 judges), and they will each judge about 20 exhibits. The panels will judge ‘like’ exhibits, eg: woody plants, tender plants, bulbs.

Under the new system, the judges will look at three areas of criteria for each exhibit:

  • Plants
  • Overall impression
  • Scale of endeavour

They will get a maximum of four points in each area, and these are totalled to give a final score. These scores relate to medals:

  • 11-12 points: Gold medal
  • 8-10 points: Silver-Gilt medal
  • 6-7 points: Silver medal
  • 3-5 points: Bronze medal
  • 0-2 points: No award

To make sure that the seven panels are fair and none are judging too harshly, or not harshly enough, an independent group of moderators go around and mark each exhibit as well. These marks are then compared to those from the judging panels to ensure that every exhibit is marked fairly.

About 10% of results are challenged by the moderators, and if this is the case, there is a re-vote with the moderators and judges.

Judging garden exhibits

The gardens are also judged on a point-based system. The difference in judging gardens, is that the judges are comparing what they actually see with what the designer has written in the design brief.

The gardens will be judged by one of two panels of judges – a panel for small gardens, and a panel for large gardens. Large gardens are judged by a panel of 6 judges and small gardens by a panel of 5 judges and feature a mixture of experience in the areas of design, plants and construction.

The judges look at the following areas for each garden:

  • Brief/purpose
  • Overall impression
  • Overall design
  • Construction
  • Planting

The judges award points for each area, which are then translated into medals.

Judging is held on the Monday before Hampton Court opens, but on the Sunday, a panel of three assessors go around each garden and look at the garden in great detail and will make their recommendation for points.

On the Monday, it is this recommendation that the judging panel reads and discusses about whether they agree with the initial assessment.

As with the floral judging, a team of independent moderators also goes around each garden and makes their assessment on medals, which are compared with that of the judging panels’.

Source: RHS - Judging at RHS shows