THE JOURNAL FOR THE SOCIETY OF GARDEN DESIGNERS

How to make a show garden

The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden, designed by Keightley for RHS Chelsea 2017. Photo: RHS/Sarah Cuttle



Matt Keightley MSGD offers advice on making a show garden application


Wait until the time is right. I’d been designing and building gardens for 12 years before I applied to do a show garden. Above all, you need a really solid concept. Having a good client and sponsor also helps. When I applied for my first show garden, I supplied letters of intent from the charity and the sponsor.

Supply detailed information. This includes everything you’d supply to a client, and more – site analysis, concept briefs, elevations, construction drawings, planting lists and plans (explaining why you’ve chosen the plants) and so on. You must also break down your construction budget. It all gets you thinking about the garden early on, and helps to show the RHS that you are capable of creating it.

You can’t be over-prepared. Give the RHS as much information as you can – mood boards, inspirational images and so on. For my first show garden I built a scale model. I then took photographs through it to show what it would look like from a visitor’s point of view.


Matt Keightley


The RHS works with you in a team effort. The panel has a wealth of experience and wants the garden to be as good as possible. If they feel it will work, they’ll do whatever they can to help. They are good at getting you to think in a show garden sense. I was advised to think of looking at the garden through a camera lens – not just in terms of the press but how the public will view the garden.

The design brief must match the realisation. You can write your own brief at the application stage. You then have a second opportunity to rewrite it and resubmit, if the design has evolved. Before the judges walk on to the garden, you have two minutes to explain any additions or changes. If your brief doesn’t match the garden, it will affect your medal.

Doing show gardens has been invaluable. It doesn’t happen overnight – people still get in touch now, saying that they liked my garden in 2014! If you’re not successful the first time, volunteering for a contractor or designer at a show would give you invaluable experience.

 

To apply to design a show garden, visit www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/exhibit-at-a-show/garden-applications