RHS Chelsea Flower Show: Judging Explained

As the much awaited annual Chelsea Flower Show continues and we remain enthralled with the innumerable extraordinary horticultural displays, we have prepared a guide for the keen and curious minds to demystify how these spectacular gardens are marked. Every aspect of the gardens are considered in the assessment, from plant choices to the structures they sit alongside, and so these guidelines also make for a helpful starting point when it comes to designing our own gardens at home.

Burford Garden Company

Gold Medal Winner, The Nurture Landscapes Garden, designed by Sarah Price

Each garden is marked against a set of standard criteria, bearing in mind the initial garden brief submitted by the designer in advance of the show. These criteria are as follows:

1. Ambition

Chelsea offers a space for the horticultural imagination to run wild, and the judges will analyse each creation’s originality, assessing the drama and impact of the design.

2. Overall impression

It is important to consider a designer's attention to the finer details, and assess whether each of the garden’s elements are unified.

3. Construction

With so many materials being used, and the use of walkways, water features and sculpture alongside the plants themselves, the judges need to assess the overall quality of the build as a whole.

4. Design

Many of the gardens are designed with a future home in mind beyond Chelsea, such as hospital or community gardens, whilst others propose inspiration for specific uses, such as Kitchen Gardens and wild planting. When marking, the judges consider if each garden would successfully operate for its proposed purpose.

5. Planting

Taking the starring role, we all love Chelsea for the inspiring planting schemes. In the marking, the plants' composition, health and colour will all be considered, as well as an assessment as to whether the arrangement would thrive well together in a real garden (e.g. not mixing up different plant’s soil acidity, aspect or sunshine needs).

Burford Garden Company

Best Show Garden, Horatio's Garden, designed by Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg

Burford Garden Company

Best Show Garden, Horatio's Garden, designed by Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg

Prior to assessing each of the above factors, the judges hear a short presentation from the designer to highlight any changes or developments to the brief, and upon evaluating, one of the following marks are provided; Excellent (four points), Very Good (three points), Good (two points), Poor (one point), and Unsatisfactory (zero). The garden with the highest score will win Best in Show.

Closer to home

At Burford, we have followed a similar strategy of presenting our plants together in a way that not only appeals to the eye, but would also flourish beautifully and effectively when planted together. From assembling perennials and herbaceous plants, to companion planting such as piecing together an array of salvias, geraniums and nepetas in amongst an impressive rose display, our drive is to present plants in myriad innovative and inspiring ways, whilst also considering their health and shared needs.

Burford Garden Company

Silver Gilt Medal Winner, Samaritans’ Listening Garden, designed by Darren Hawkes

Burford Garden Company

Gold Medal Winner, Myeloma UK — A Life Worth Living Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw