'How on Earth did that get Gold?'
A Talk by Mark Porter
What a good meeting! Mark is several years into his training to be a judge at the Chelsea Flower Show and so is in a good position to explain how those precious medals are awarded and to give us some inside information on preparing for the Royal Visit to the show. All of this information was delivered with verve and humour and there was much laughter from a good audience of members and several visitors.
A preliminary assessment of the gardens is done on the Sunday, before the show opens on Tuesday. Last minute touches are still being done at this stage but must be finished by the end of the day as judging begins at 6.00am on the Monday morning and goes on into the afternoon. The most experienced judges do the large show gardens and that group consists of seven judges and a moderator.
As well as training for judging, Mark is a member of the RHS Council. This small, but very important group of people, has many functions, including looking after all the Royal Visitors before the show opens to the general public. His job, in 2016, was to escort the Duke of Edinburgh around the show. The Duke had let him know, beforehand, that he was not interested in plants or show gardens (a problem at a flower show) so Mark hoped that lawnmowers and barbeques would suffice!
Members of the Royal Family arrive at eight minute intervals with the Queen last, at four minutes before 5.00pm. The guides have to learn their routes as nobody must cross the Queen’s path ahead of her. There is great consternation if the Queen spots something of interest that is not on the planned route and veers off to look at it. Going ‘off piste’ as Mark called it, may lead to paths crossing and untold lack of etiquette!
Judging the Show Gardens is strictly objective. There are nine criteria, each can carrying four marks, so the maximum score is 36. A score between 29 and 36 earns a gold medal. Silver gilt is next best followed by silver and then bronze. If your garden earns a bronze medal then you would be very unhappy and probably choose a different day job.
One of the criteria is whether the finished garden matches the brief that the designer has agreed with the sponsor and that has been accepted by the RHS. Another is for the quality of the plants used and a separate one is for the density of planting – does it match the brief, such as in an arid garden in a hot country. A separate criterion is for the choice of plants – are they correct for the environment of the garden, for example, plants in a maritime situation will differ from those in a tropical garden. Workmanship matters, is everything safe and secure? In 2016 one garden lost marks for having a loose paver in a path - it wobbled! There are no marks awarded for personal choice, it doesn’t matter whether the judge likes the garden or not.
A limited colour palette often does well. In 2016, Cleve West and Chris Beardshaw were both awarded gold medals, Cleve with a mix of blue and yellow and Chris with shades of mauve and blue and lots of green.
If you visit Chelsea Flower show this year or just watch some of the huge television coverage, then Mark Porter’s talk will enhance and increase your enjoyment.
Our meeting of 27th April is a talk by Katherine Crouch called ‘New Tricks for Old Gardeners’ at 7.30pm in the Reading Room. There will be plants for sale from members’ gardens so come early for that.
Our meeting of 25th May will be our 30th Anniversary celebration meal, 7.15 for 7.30pm in the Reading Room. This will be a delicious buffet with savoury and dessert courses planned with choices to suit dietary requirements and soft drinks for everyone. Please feel free to bring wine or beers if you enjoy them. Tickets are £6.00 and are available from me, telephone 01722 321431 and they will be available at the April meeting. Tickets for partners and friends of members, or friends of the society such as previous members, will be available from 11th May.
Keep a note in your diary for the Stratford Village Open Gardens on Sunday 18th June, 2.00-5.00pm. At least eight gardens will be open and tickets are £5.00 for adults and accompanied children are free