Alexander-Sinclair talks about the Chelsea Awards

Alexander-Sinclair talks about the Chelsea Awards

By Antonia Filmer | 21 May, 2016
James Alexander-Sinclair.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show (24th – 28th May), is the dedicated horticulturalist’s and layman gardener’s paradise. The Flower Show attracts about 160,000 visitors over 5 days, today there is an optimum number at any one time that the 11 acre site can accommodate; it is one of four RHS specialist events in the UK aimed at promoting the combination of science, art and the practice of horticulture. The RHS is a charity helping to bring gardening into people's lives and supporting gardeners of all abilities whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time. The theme of this year's show champions the health and wellbeing benefits of greening-up Britain’s grey spaces. Monday is the big day on the social calendar as corporate sponsors invite VIP guests on the restricted entry day, when it is much more comfortable to look around and of course HM The Queen visits on Monday. This year The Queen’s 90th birthday will be celebrated with wonderful floral arches at both the Bull Ring and London Gate entrances.

Now in its 103rd year it is at the zenith of professionalism and the precious medals awarded can make careers blossom. James Alexander-Sinclair has been a judge since 2008 and he is delighted that now judges have to undergo a process of “training”, he says “Judging is a science, all gardens have to be judged on the same unemotional level”.

Sinclair confides that he became one of UK’s top garden designers by accident, after a chance meeting with The Daily Express newspaper who agreed to sponsor his “outrageous” design at Chelsea in 1999, resulting in a Bronze medal.

Alexander-Sinclair confides that he became one of UK’s top garden designers by accident, after a chance meeting with The Daily Express newspaper who agreed to sponsor his “outrageous” design at Chelsea in 1999, resulting in a Bronze medal. Since then he has designed gardens from London to Moscow, written for every leading publication, broadcasted on the BBC and blogged his wellies off.

To make the awards impartial Alexander-Sinclair explains there are seven judges, 3 assessing judges come to look and discuss in depth on the Sunday before the gates open, the other 4 judges arrive on Monday to listen to their recommendations, look at the gardens and decide on their awards, the final step is moderation. A moderator (this year it is Tom Stuart-Smith) acts as arbitrator to make sure marks and evaluations are fair and no feature has been overlooked. Ultimately each garden has had about an hour of assessment and each medal is the result of two days’ work and the opinion of seven people who include designers, plantsmen and landscapers. Alexander-Sinclair outlines the procedure criteria used in judging: first the designers original concept and drawings are evaluated: has the intention been fulfilled in terms design, construction and content including planting, creativity is valued highly in all three. It is a three dimensional approach that examines the mood of the garden, is the effect exciting, peaceful or arresting.

The lifecycle of a show garden up to now has been nine months typically a garden designer will first present his idea to a corporate sponsor for approval a budget will then have to be agreed. The designer then submits his intention and drawings to the RHS Selection Panel in September who will accept or refuse the entry. This year, Alexander-Sinclair is the only judge who crosses over the Selection and Judging panels. All gardens large or small, artisan or apprentice are considered and once selected there is no charge for the space.

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