Television show controversy

The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge, a new BBC2 series set to run across four nights in the week prior to Chelsea Flower Show (19-23 May), is creating controversy. Critics claim the show is making garden design into a ‘MasterChef’-style competition rather than to be seen as a profession that takes training and experience to reach the top.

James Alexander Sinclair, Joe Swift and Ann Marie Powell
James Alexander Sinclair, Joe Swift and Ann Marie Powell from the BBC2 show The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge
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Judges James Alexander Sinclair and Ann Marie Powell, and presenter Joe Swift will oversee six amateur gardeners with the prize of a place on the main avenue at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the best designer who emerges over the week. Contestants will have £1,500 and four days to build show gardens in cottage garden, formal landscape and conceptual garden styles.

The show was filmed at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Yorkshire, Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, Painswick Gardens in the Cotswolds and RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey last August and September.

But professional designer Janine Pattison said: “I definitely don’t agree with the competition. I think it trivialises garden design and reduces it to entertainment. If Chelsea is to remain as the pinnacle of achievement for a garden designer then standards need to be maintained and the years of study and hard work required to become a good designer need to be respected.

She continues: “The RHS have used MasterChef as their model and I really don’t think it can work with garden design. It is one thing cooking a plate of food under time pressure, but creating a living, breathing garden which is respectful to horticulture and design is quite another. Places on Main Avenue are precious and should be showcases for professional talent.”

James Alexander-Sinclair said: “The programme is intended to throw up new and exciting talent. The best equivalent example is MasterChef, which has found people who have gone on to great things. I see no hard-working chefs feeling hard done by MasterChef. Naturally the winner will be helped. It would be grossly unfair to leave them to sink or swim. The RHS is in the business of nurturing and encouraging new talent.”

Matt Appleby

About Matt Appleby

Matt is a former teacher turned journalist. He took up writing while in New Zealand and trained as a journalist there. He has since written five books (three on cricket and two on gardening) with The Children's Garden due out in spring 2016 published by Frances Lincoln. He writes for Horticulture Week and other publications. Married with two boys, aged 3 and 6 he lives in London.
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