RHS flower shows' judging system to be reappraised

The RHS flower show judging system is undergoing a review, a move welcomed by growers and exhibitors.

In a letter to HW (p18), Horticultural Exhibitors Association chair Kelvin Harbutt said "progress is being made" and that he is hopeful a new system of judging RHS flower shows will be introduced in 2009.

Harbutt says exhibitors are concerned that the RHS judging process needs to be more accountable and objective: "The judging needs to be more open and transparent. Feedback at RHS shows is just a little chat. Exhibitors want more so they know what to improve next time," he told HW. "People would like written feedback and to receive it early on in the show."

Harbutt agreed with Peter Seabrook's comment (HW, 15 November) that judging would be better with a smaller team of judges. "It's quite a laugh, the number of judges who come round. A lot of us feel it would be nice to get some with more experience of building stands," he said.

Speaking about the impact of medals awarded, Harbutt said: "The medals at shows don't necessarily translate into more sales at the show but they do dictate how many tables exhibitors get the next time."

He added that moving the ornamental plant nurseries to RHS Lindley Hall, rather than the traditional Lawrence Hall, during the October harvest show, led to lower sales than normal.

"The aisles were cramped and people took a while to find us. Most of the people I spoke to had sales that weren't as good as normal. We have approached the RHS to ask to not be moved again - we're waiting on that one," Harbutt added.

RHS head of show development Bob Sweet said that the RHS reviews the judging system at least once every four years. It is trialling a new judging system in concurrence with the current method.

Sweet said: "By the end of October 2008 we will know if we are in a position to change the criteria by which we judge.

"We're taking a caring approach with our exhibitors. We want to move towards a better understanding of our judging system. If we can make the process more transparent we will do so."

Sweet was not sure that reducing the number of judges was an issue. "We appoint judges with different areas of expertise - they could be knowledgeable about pests and diseases or nomenclature", which he said might be factors used to judge a display.

Answering the claim that judges need more experience of building stands, Sweet said: "We always have at least one judge with exhibiting experience."

Concerning the new layout of the October show, Sweet argued that he had spoken to some exhibitors who reported sales that were "much better" than normal, as well as a "few" who experienced fewer sales than normal.

"I don't think I can agree that sales suffered because nurseries displayed in Lindley Hall. Exhibitors know that visitors vary from show to show and a lot of them liked what we did this time (at the October harvest show)," Sweet added.

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