RHS Chelsea Retrospective: A day in the life of a RHS judge

Tradestands Chairman of Assessing

We are days away from the launch of this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. As leaves are polished and exhibitors gear up for the nail biting verdicts of the judges there seems no better time to revisit this tantalising insight behind the scenes at the most prestigious event in the gardening calendar…

Back in 2016, we had the pleasure of following Andrew Peck as he conducted his duties as Tradestands Chairman of Assessing, a role he had performed for 8 years.

RHS Chelsea showcases the most cutting edge garden design, exceptional floral displays and the most innovative horticultural products – so hopes are always running high among the exhibitors to be presented with an esteemed RHS award.

2016 was no exception.

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.

Andrew Peck with fellow RHS assessors

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 back in 2016:

8.30am  The day got off to a relatively early start to accommodate visits to lots of stands. The panel met in the Briefing Room and took part in a joint assessment of a sample of tradestands, led by myself.

9.15am Assessment began! The panel split into four groups working 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.

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 recommenced into the afternoon. In total, we assessed 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 regrouped 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 then reviewed and moderated the judging which has been known 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!

On Tuesday, the results list is published at 8am. I had 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…

What I loved about judging…

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 loved 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.

A final word…

2016 was my final year as Chairman of Assessing for the tradestands category, and I’m pleased to say that it was yet another spectacular show. 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.


We’re all geared up for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show; why not check out some of the artists who are going to be exhibiting in our buildings in the Artisan Area? Lola Lely, Charlie Whinney, Natasha Hulse, Laura Jane Wylder and Corrie Bain.

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