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RHS Chelsea: A day in the life of…

A day in the life of Andrew Peck: Chairman of Assessing, RHS Chelsea


Billed as “the greatest flower show in the world”, RHS Chelsea is a feast for the senses. 

Held in the grounds of Chelsea Hospital since 1913, the show boasts cutting edge garden design, exceptional floral displays and the best in horticultural products, with all exhibitors hoping to be presented with an esteemed RHS award.

I have had the privilege of being the Tradestands Chairman of Assessing at RHS Chelsea for 8 years. Here I give you an insight into my role at the RHS’ most prestigious flower show.

Andrew Peck with fellow RHS assessors

My role at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

All exhibitors at RHS Chelsea – from the show garden designers to junior entrants – are eligible to win an award for their display. Exhibitors are split into several award categories and my role is to judge the tradestands section.

Every year a panel of assessors is assembled, each bringing various skills and expertise to the table from their individual professions, which range from visual merchandising to product design and development. With a background in garden building design and having spent many years creating and exhibiting displays at various shows, I was approached by the RHS to become an assessor, eventually becoming the Chairman of Assessing.

As Chairman, I work with the RHS tradestands management team in overseeing the entire assessment process. It’s our responsibility to guide the panel in terms of the criteria they should be judging against and the types of things they should be looking for in an exhibit, to make sure there is consistency and fairness. The exhibits vary greatly in size, so at first it can be quite difficult to judge a small stand against the same standards as a much larger exhibit – we assist the panel members in mastering this ability.

Monday 23rd May – Tradestand Assessment Day

Assessors have the opportunity to informally view all tradestands on the Sunday prior to the show opening, to get a feel for the general standard. This often means stands are unfinished, however the panel must not take this into consideration. It’s wonderful to experience those final few hours of preparation behind the scenes, when last minute details and finishing touches are being put in place, when the exhibitors have done all they can, having transformed what was previously an empty space into a stunning visual display.

Judging takes place on “press day”, the Monday of Chelsea week, when national and international media, celebrities, VIPs and dignitaries attend, as well as the Royal family who have visited the show every year. Here’s a rundown of what happened yesterday:

8.30am It’s a relatively early start as there are a lot of stands to visit. The panel meet in the Briefing Room and take part in a joint assessment of a sample of tradestands, lead by myself.

9.15am Assessment begins! The panel is split into four groups who work their way around the exhibitor stands. The show is set over 11 acres so the day involves a lot of walking – comfortable shoes and a sun hat (or sometimes an umbrella!) are a must! We look for a number of features in each stand – have imaginative ideas been used? Has an original and innovative approach been taken? Does the stand stimulate the viewer’s imagination? Attention is also paid to the presentation and finish of the exhibit, whether the build is of a good quality, as well as practical considerations such as whether the stand is clear and safe.

Assessing tradestands at RHS Chelsea 2016   Tradestand at RHS Chelsea 2016   Tradestand at RHS Chelsea 2016

At approximately 1:00pm we break for lunch (if time allows!) and regroup to discuss our findings and what we’ve seen so far, before resuming our assessing in the afternoon.

2.30pm Re-fuelled, judging recommences into the afternoon. In total, we assess over 260 stands, from wellington boots and greenhouses to flower seeds and garden sculptures, making for an extremely interesting and varied day. A keen eye for detail, an awareness of current trends and, above all, a passion for the industry are required by both the exhibitors and judging panel – this is what makes the show so spectacular every year.

4.15pm The panel regroups in the Briefing Room for some much needed tea and coffee, after a long but rewarding day of assessing.

4.30pm The panel leaders, RHS management team and I now review and moderate the judging which can take up to 3 hours or more. Finally, after some deliberation, award recommendations are put forward – 5 Star, 4 Star and 3 Star awards are presented – followed by a trip back out to the showground to revisit each shortlisted finalist and decide the overall winner of the ‘Best Tradestand 2016’. Judging for 2016 is complete!

Assessing taking place at RHS Chelsea 2016   Tradestand at RHS Chelsea 2016   Tradestand at RHS Chelsea 2016

On Tuesday 24th May, the results list is published at 8am. I have the honour of delivering the awards to the winners alongside the panel leaders, as well as visiting exhibitors who’ve requested feedback. The atmosphere in the morning is always one of anticipation mixed with a buzz of excitement, as Tuesday is the day the show opens to the public – Chelsea is officially underway once again.

The moment I will always remember

The moment I will always remember is awarding a 5 Star Award to an exhibitor who had created a fabulous tradestand in a very restricted space. She had been hugely creative with her very small stand area, and produced a display of extremely high quality. She promptly burst into tears and declared the award to be more important to her than actually selling over the coming week.

What I love about what I do

What I love about my role as Chairman is seeing certain tradestands improve year on year. The main reason for assessing at the flower shows is to reward those who have created excellent tradestands, but also to encourage others to improve. Seeing the overall standards rise each year is ultimately hugely rewarding.

If there was an extra hour in the day…

I’m extremely lucky to have access to RHS Chelsea for the duration of the show, so I normally get chance to see all of the gardens and exhibits on offer. However, if there was an extra hour in the judging day, I’d use it to spend even more time on each tradestand, talking to each exhibitor and hearing about their individual challenges and experiences in creating their flower show stand.

Final word

2016 will be my final year as Chairman of Assessing for the tradestands category, and I’m pleased to say that it has brought yet another spectacular show to Chelsea. One thing that has never ceased to amaze me during my time as Chairman is the dedication of all those involved with the flower show, and how their effort and passion raise the standards and result in the show simply getting better and better every year.