Judging garden design at the Chelsea Flower Show 2009

Chelsea garden design judges 2009

Chelsea garden design judges 2009: can you guess who are the designers?

Here are the judges, understandably grim-faced while looking at the recipient of our Worst in Show Award for the 2009 Chelsea Show Gardens. Another problem is they are given the pottiest  assessment criteria. The criteria are (1) has the designer met his/her own brief? (2) is the garden as neat and tidy as it could possibly be? (3) does the garden have style? These criteria are better suited to a dog show  than a garden design competition.

The primary criterion should be: is the design of high quality? And to answer this question one must have a design theory. I urge the Chelsea organizers to read Vitruvius and to appoint only judges with an undestanding of the subject. For the competition to make a useful contribution to the art of garden design, the judges should ask:

  • Utilitas: does the garden have functions?
  • Firmitas: is the garden well made, in terms of construction and planting?
  • Venustas: is the garden beautiful/delightful/possessed of high aesthetic or artistic quality?

Then they can think about how well the garden meets the promised brief and, if they really must, about whether it is neat and tidy. The  ‘style’ criterion should be discarded, not so much because it is irrelevant as because it is confusing and misleading: we want designs to have style but we do not want designers to aim for specific ‘styles’. With regard to the Vitruvian criteria, it is not necessary for every design to satisfy each of criteria, but if one or two are set aside then the second/third should be all the more fully satisfied.

See our review of the 2009 Chelsea Show Gardens – and of the judges decisions!

One thought on “Judging garden design at the Chelsea Flower Show 2009

  1. Lucy Schnell

    I think the realism and the longevity of the planting scheme should also be a criteria, not just how pretty it looks for 4 days. The plants should be able to be planted in the combinations shown (in other words, similar cultural needs) and the backbone of the planting should hold together through the seasons.


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