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28 October 2014
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Bob Sweet

RHS Head of Shows Development

Bob Sweet heads up the team of show managers at the RHS. He has been a horticultural examiner and is an experienced UK national judge. Bob has been in horticulture all his life, following a career in landscaping and parks management. He has been at the RHS for eight years.

Q) Which area holds the most interest for you at the show; the gardens or the plant exhibitors and why?

I think it’s very hard to choose between the two as both offer something special and individual. The gardens offer a landscape experience second to none, and yet the Great Pavilion has a huge wow factor. The beauty of the Chelsea Flower Show is that it contains both elements.

Q) As a former landscape gardener, do you prefer contemporary or traditional garden designs?

The most attractive gardens at the show are the traditional ones. I think that we can all relate to the thatched roofs, the traditional stone walling and the rockeries. They are the prettiest and appeal to lots of people. But it is also exciting to see new designs and new innovations. There is no limit to how glass, stainless steel and other new modern materials can be used in the garden.

Q) You oversee all of the RHS garden shows. Do you have a favourite and, if so, why?

As the year progresses, it’s exciting to see the shows reflect the change of season. It’s hard to have a favourite as each show has its own character:

  • The Malvern Spring Show has a sense of expectancy as the new season begins.
  • Chelsea has a truly international atmosphere and it’s also a great to see the new plant launches.
  • BBC Gardeners’ World Live Show has a frenetic buzz and is great for buying plants.
  • Hampton Court is the archetypal English summer show with a lazy English country garden feel to it.
  • Tatton Park specialises in local plants, crafts and skills from the area.

Q) As a former national judge has anybody reacted badly to negative criticism when you have been judging?

You never win friends being a judge because, hopefully, you are carrying out the role with complete impartiality. Although you do have favourites, they sometimes don’t do well under the judging criteria.

It’s fair to say that there’s often a lobby of opinion at every show that will differ from the judge’s decision. Always remember that nobody sets out to do a bad garden and so in the eyes of the person who created it, it's the best - until you tell them differently!

In the same way, there will always be some gardens that you love, but you can’t award them high points because they don’t meet all the standards and criteria.

Q) Have you ever been in stalemate and disagreed with another judge’s decision? What happens in this situation?

There is often disagreement over minor points, but I’ve never seen extreme differences of opinion - judges will mainly be thinking in the same direction.

Q)You achieved 10 gold medals in 10 years of exhibiting. What is the secret of your success?

The success of any exhibitor at an RHS show is paying huge attention to detail and not accepting any part of the exhibit that is not the best it can possibly be. A designer should also try to use something original and innovative in every exhibit.

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