Chris Beardshaw joins call for better feedback

RHS show judges urged to make feedback more transparent and professional as new system starts to come into operation.

Arthritis Research UK Garden: won a Gold Medal for designer Beardshaw at Chelsea Flower Show in 2013 - image: HW
Arthritis Research UK Garden: won a Gold Medal for designer Beardshaw at Chelsea Flower Show in 2013 - image: HW

More transparent and professional feedback from RHS show judges has been called for by RHS Chelsea Flower Show television presenter and show garden designer Chris Beardshaw.

He said when he is judging students' work at the University of Central England and Pershore College, people expect detailed written feedback that allows them to learn from it and improve. But at shows such as Chelsea, the RHS judges' comments have been given anonymously and verbally to the designers at the same time as they receive their medals.

His comments came as the RHS was in the final stages of a change in judging, having set up a review panel after years of complaints that the judging system was secretive and arcane.

Last week's RHS Cardiff Flower Show (11-13 April) saw the first judging using a new criteria-based system. Exhibitors will see a written summary of whether they achieve "excellent", "very good", "good" or "satisfactory" across various categories and a separate generic explanation of what the terms mean.

Chairman of assessors Andrew Fisher Tomlin said this is "effectively written feedback". He added: "Cardiff is the first time there has been written feedback to show garden exhibitors after we trialled the system last year. It will be at all the RHS shows and it's about formalising judging and making it more transparent for exhibitors. The great thing is the judges feel they're being heard this year.

"We've got rid of the tick boxes on the brief. I don't think anyone was that happy with it. Now it asks what aspect the garden has and you can say 'south facing but trees around the edge create shade'. It's a good opportunity to explain what the garden's about. It can only be good from a judging point of view, getting the whole story."

Earlier this month Beardshaw, who won gold for his 2013 Arthritis Research UK Garden, said: "I think it would be great if those people were prepared to voice their opinions. If you've invested six to nine months of your time and the sponsor has invested £250,000 it would be of use to give someone feedback."

He said the usefulness of verbal feedback is diluted by "the colour of the medal", adding: "When you get the medal is not the time to do it. It's a professional world. The colour of the medals and the way the garden performs for a client are important."

Judge's opinion

Robert Hillier, Hillier Nurseries vice-president and judge

"The review has proved how important it is to get it absolutely right. Judging hasn't always been understood by exhibitors and the public but it's not meant to lack transparency. Now we're getting consistency given the need for a clearer understanding. The feedback should be face-to-face, verbal and followed up by a written summary. The problem can be if you see somebody who's just been judged and they're disappointed, they're not necessarily listening to what we say. On the other hand, the judges are all volunteers giving up their time freely. It can be onerous."

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