Monty Don: Chelsea Flower Show best garden award is ‘tick-box exercise’

A young woman in a floral dress stands in front of a wall of flints and a bench, with birch trees and irises
Designer Ula Maria stands in her winning garden, inspired by the Japanese concept of 'forest bathing' - Victoria Jones/PA

Monty Don has criticised the way the best garden is chosen at the Chelsea Flower Show, saying it is a tick-box exercise and likening it to a driving test.

The television gardener, 68, spoke after a forest bathing-inspired garden by Ula Maria, a young designer, was announced as best in show.

Don had predicted Tom Massey’s WaterAid garden would be the winner, and said that “a lot of people I have spoken to are saying that they just don’t understand where the judges are going”.

Don said the winning garden was “fabulous and deserved a gold medal”.

The three stand in a garden of birch trees and blue irises, smiling
Ms Maria with Clare Matterson, RHS director-general, and Monty Don - Oliver Dixon/Shutterstock

However, he added: “The one thing that the judges seem to be missing in their effort to be transparent and objective, they have lost that sense of delight that makes a garden. What we have is a procedure that is like passing a driving test.”

Show gardens at the event are scored on specific criteria including construction, planting design and meeting the client’s brief.

The WaterAid garden by Tom Massey and Je Ahn had been tipped for the top accolade, along with Tom Stuart-Smith’s National Garden Scheme design.

A spokesman for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) said: “The judges experience the delight in every garden, and feel emotional connections to them all in different ways.

“However, to celebrate the very best in UK horticulture that is expected of our world-famous show, horticultural expertise, design, landscaping and planting plans have to be central to the technical judging criteria.

“Of course people have their personal favourites, which is why we have our BBC/RHS People’s Choice Award, and we can’t wait to find out the nation’s favourite on Friday.

“Congratulations Ula Maria for your well-deserved win – you should be very proud.”