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Monty Don faces backlash from fans over 'rude' remarks at Chelsea Flower Show

Monty and Joe Swift criticised the judging process during BBC Two's coverage

Nicky Morris
TV and film writer
May 23, 2024
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Monty Don and Joe Swift have been met with backlash after their remarks during BBC Two's coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday. 

The Gardeners' World presenters claimed that the judging process had become a "box-ticking" exercise following Ula Maria's Best-in-Show win for her Japanese 'forest bathing '-inspired garden, intended as a sanctuary for people with muscular dystrophy.

Monty Don, Joe Swift at RHS Chelsea Flower Show © BBC Studios
Monty Don and Joe Swift presented the BBC's coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

The pair had predicted that "stand-out" displays, Tom Massey and Je Ahn's WaterAid 'sponge' garden or Tom Stuart-Smith's National Garden Scheme, would take home gold in the category and implied that the other two should have won instead. 

WATCH: Monty Don and Joe Swift criticise Chelsea Flower Show judges

Discussing Ula's win, Monty said: "I think Ula's garden was fabulous, deserved a gold medal. The fact she is young and a brilliant designer is fantastic.

"Everybody I've spoken to, and a lot of people are saying, that they just don't understand where the judges are going."

Monty Don on Gardeners' World © BBC Studios
Monty has faced backlash from fans

Chiming in, Joe said: "It feels like it's all becoming so technical, boxes are being ticked, and it's about making a faultless garden. We both made a prediction, for me those were the two stand-out gardens here so I'm trying to understand why they didn't win."

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

joe swift gw© Photo: Rex
Joe said the judging process had become a "box-ticking" exercise

Fans weren't impressed with the duo's comments and shared their disappointment on social media. One person penned: "How rude of Monty Don and Joe Swift to dis Ula Maria's garden like that," while another wrote: "I love Monty normally, but I thought his (and Joe Swift's) comments were bad form and poorly timed."

Tom Massey said of Don's criticism: "I think you just have to respect the process. The judges do their absolute hardest to score the gardens fairly, to be objective rather than subjective. We 100 per cent respect the process."

When asked if he felt there were any grounds for Monty's accusations, Tom told The Times: "No, I don't think so. It's very difficult isn't it, to judge any piece of work or piece of art," adding that the judging process involved discussion between seven people, who each give a score. 

"I'm reassured, having been a judge, that it is fair. Yes, it does come down to ticking boxes, because you're scoring categories." 

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