Gardens Illustrated Award: comment by Anne Wareham

January 31, 2011

in Articles, General Interest

Olympic Park 5 copyright Bridget Rosewell

Olympic park, winner 2012

How do they arrive at these Awards?

The only way to experience a garden is to be in it. I know this sounds like a statement of the very obvious but regrettably it seems it is not. It is the nature of a garden to demand the use of all the senses and that in order to use those senses you really  have to be there, but this is the case.

Gardens are like theatre in that you have to be there to judge them. It is not enough to review a play by looking at the publicity photographs and hearing a second hand account. It is not good enough to judge a restaurant by looking at the menu and hearing what someone else thought. It is not good enough to judge a garden by looking at slides and hearing one person’s opinion of it.

The Gardens Illustrated “Garden of the Year Award 2009” was chosen from a shortlist of  five gardens which five prestigious garden media people had visited that year (they hadn’t all visited these gardens, they were their pic of their own favourites) and which they had personally decided, to quote the blurb about the Award, “capture the spirit of the garden world that year”.

This very short shortlist in itself seems rather bizarre, given the title of the Award. The Good Gardens Guide features 1260 gardens, out of which you may think that rather more than five “capture the spirit of the garden world” in 2009,– though I confess I find that an odd and rather amorphous idea too.

But even if you are going to give the Award for something amorphous, you do, at the very least, have to go and look at the gardens on your shortlist. This the Gardens Illustrated panel did not do. I am told it was because it was not possible for the panel to visit the gardens.

In this case I maintain that what is not possible should not be attempted. There is no reason that I can imagine that you couldn’t have an article, and exhibition at the Garden Museum, about gardens that each person happens to like, and no reason at all not to be honest that that is what is going on. This is not just trivia about gardens: it is actually this kind of honesty creep which ultimately leads to things like the MP’s expenses claims.

And let us be clear, for ever, that a garden is not a collection of photographs.

Le Jardin Plume, Normandy France Copyright Charles Hawes

Le Jardin Plume, Normandy France, winner 2008

Anne Wareham, editor

Anne Wareham Portrait, copyright John Kingdon

Anne Wareham


These were the responses to this piece on twitter:

Can’t think that you could judge without seeing the real thing. Like painting on the web. I need to see the real thing…

Of course they should visit! and take time to understand the concept, reasoning, personality etc of the space itself.

Strange question but yes, I think they should visit…. :)))

You can’t get the feel of a garden from slides. It’s like writing about a garden without visiting.

Most definitely – how can any award be judged on photographs?

Without a shade of a doubt- must visit

Indeed I would-how else to soak up atmosphere, unseen bits, how all fits together, relevance or not to surrounds etc. Of course!

Slides that’s awful, what about the other senses we use when looking at gardens .

Yes, no way a decision could be made any other way.

Of course, how can they judge otherwise?

It would surely seem that any such award were hollow and utterly debased…NO?

Tx for info–on first look seems somewhat safe and PC choices, but don’t know PC there. Here for sure.

I would have to go with NO! Naughty judges!

Would be interesting to know if all criteria for nomination were the same or if it was just gut and personal.

Was award one any could enter or was it culled from what was published? What was nomination process?

Depends on requirements 4 award. Travel 2 each garden=very expensive 4 bestowing org. Between Award or No-I say award

wouldn’t it be a requirement to visit the garden before giving an award?

absolutely- taking short cuts does not enhance life, just reduces it to some triffle thing with a tag!

If not 1st hand view would want to see plans, brief+commentary, history, photos (B4+after), plant lists, challenges resolved, etc.

Was award one any could enter or was it culled from what was published? What was nomination process?

not right either RT @bulchey: @FrancoiseM It’s bad enough garden writers write abt & talk up gardens they haven’t visited. yes, they do!)

wont be going then- because their validation is based on pictures not the genius loci of the place, the texture, the layout…

Bloody ridiculous I think- what is the point? It’s a sham in my eyes.

Of course! Didn’t they? RT Help – “Garden of the Year Award” – should judges have visited the shortlisted gardens?

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