THE JOURNAL FOR THE SOCIETY OF GARDEN DESIGNERS

How to design a show garden

Rae Wilkinson is designing another garden at RHS Hampton Court show this year


Designer Rae Wilkinson shares some top tips for those wishing to create a show garden. Written by Jackie Bennett


Pre-registered SGD member Rae Wilkinson did her first show garden last year at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. Here she shares some advice for others who want to give it a try

  • Do it for the right reasons: I did it mainly for the experience, but also to raise my profile and for a chance to be creative. It helped me pick up a few clients, but it doesn’t always increase your business. It does offer ongoing exposure if you get some attention from the media.
  • Get experience: I volunteered to plant gardens at RHS shows over the previous two years, which helped me get a good idea of the process and how it all works – I would really recommend this.
  • Put in the prep work: Getting a design together involves a lot of research. You have to really think about the construction and plant and material costs. A good guide in terms of spend is an absolute minimum of £500 per square metre for Hampton Court (Chelsea is a lot more).
  • Go for funding: It is best to get funding from sponsors before applying to the RHS, and I approached various companies in the hopes of getting sponsorship. In the end my contractor offered to fund it.
  • Appreciate your contractors: The designer-contractor relationship is very important, and it is a good idea to have worked together before you attempt a show garden, and for one of you to have done a show garden before.
  • Know your plants: I sent out my list to several suppliers to see what they could do. Sourcing can be difficult in the UK due to weather conditions, which is why I think many designers are now choosing contract-grown specimens from abroad. I admit that during the build I had to run out and replace plants with my own money, to make sure they looked good. I advise you to go and see the plants you have ordered for yourself in the run up to the show.


Rae’s ‘Healing Urban Garden’ won a Silver-Gilt medal last year


Expect an impact: Don’t underestimate how much work is involved and how much time it will take up. I did experience some cash-flow problems after the show because of all the time I dedicated to it. It was intense but fantastic, and I would do it again in a heartbeat – but this time I would charge for my time.