Chelsea Flower Show Judging Demystified (possibly!)

Chelsea Flower Show

When it comes to receiving medals for your garden at an RHS show, the difference between receiving a gold or silver medal can sometimes mean the difference between gaining sponsorship or a high-profile job, or it being offered to another garden designer. Therefore, as a designer, it is so important to try to have an understanding on how the judges make their decision. As a visitor to the shows, it can sometimes seem baffling when trying to understand why one garden has a gold and another has not. We will try to explain, as far as we can ascertain ourselves, how these judging decision are made.


Basic judging system

Changes in 2014 have caused some consternation among garden designers who have been anxious about how judging decisions are made. We are reassured, however, that the basic judging system has remained in place:

  • Three judges assess the gardens, before Chelsea opens to the public, on the Sunday.
  • Four more judges then make assessments on the Monday.
  • All seven of the judges then vote as a panel to decide the final score.
  • 2014 changes see a maximum score of 36 points under nine criteria, with a maximum of 4 points being awarded for each of the nine criteria.


Design Brief

This possibly sounds simple. However, preparing for the judging starts the summer before! The garden designers are required to submit a design brief to the RHS. This brief is vital to get right as the final garden display will be judged on how well the designer has managed to fulfill their own brief. The designers are required to write a brief that contains the information surrounding:

  • Soil conditions
  • Theme and purpose
  • Hard landscaping
  • Aspect
  • Special features


Judging criteria

The gardens are judged according to criteria:

  • Planting: planting has the most points available, so this is a really important area to get right to be in with a chance of securing a medal
  • Construction: The question is asked “Has the garden been well constructed?” The balance of hard and soft landscape is questioned and whether the balance is correct.
  • Overall design: areas such as: balance, scale, creativity, and invention are rewarded when they have been applied appropriately.
  • Overall impression: while subjective, the originality and impact are judged.
  • Brief: “is the garden true to the original proposal?”. It is important to remember here that simplicity with perfect execution can be rewarded, but it is generally innovative gardens that usually score high.


All designers are entitled to talk to a judge to understand why they have been awarded a particular medal. Designers can also ask for critical feedback. The medals that have been awarded receive a lot of coverage and have the ability to make or break a garden designer’s future.


Note about the brief

As mentioned above, the original brief has to be submitted nearly a whole year before the garden is actually planted. There may be legitimate reasons why the garden has not met the brief, such as availability of plants. This can often be the reason why gardens that look eligible for a gold may actually be awarded a silver-gilt.

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2 Replies to “Chelsea Flower Show Judging Demystified (possibly!)”

  1. Still a mystery to me about how they make the decision between Gold/Silver Gilt!

  2. Great article, thanks. Always really interested about the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff at events 🙂

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