Last week the results for the People's Choice awards at Hampton Court Flower Show were announced. In first place in the Small Garden category was Hedgehog Street, the plot dedicated to showing how suburban gardens can support this endangered species. In second place was The NSPCC Legacy Garden, creating a pathway of its history from the 19th century to the present day.
If you really liked the gardens, then you'll think them worthy winners.
Or were they?
As the show swung into action this year, the following email arrived in my inbox from the People's Trust for Endangered Species:
If you're an email subscriber to NSPCC news, you'll know if they too sent out a similar email (do let us know if you received one). Certainly on their website, they had the following message:
Two organisations with massive support and active social media ask for votes and - should we be surprised? - they win. The NSPCC at least had the decency to suggest that you should only vote for them if you liked the pictures but, even if supporters stretched themselves to look at them, it's hardly a considered vote for a favourite garden if you haven't seen any of the others.
So, far from being a measure of which garden was genuinely the public's favourite design, the People's Choice appears to have been more a measure of which cause could drum up the most support.
Am I taking it too seriously? Do you even think it matters that a garden does well after a big organisation exhorts its followers to vote, even if they haven't seen the other gardens?
I think it does.
Everyone who builds a garden at Hampton Court likes to think they're in with a chance. An enormous amount of work is put in, often freely, by family members, friends, company workers, to ensure that the gardens are ready in time and as near to doing well as they can be. Sponsors no doubt hope for some publicity if the public particularly likes a design.
And there's the nub, of course: publicity. As PTES' follow-up email, announcing their success, says, "Thank you to all of you who voted for our garden. This will have massively helped the profile of our campaign."
I wonder how many show visitors voted for Hedgehog Street? Quite a number, I would guess, but when I spoke to a volunteer on the Flintknapper's Garden - A Story of Thetford on the Wednesday, she was bubbling with the positive remarks that visitors had made. She thought they were in with a good chance for People's Choice.
Social media is a wonderful thing, but let's not pretend that a vote is worth anything when someone can just press a button to swell the support of their pet cause. There's more than one way of being a bully online, and inciting your supporters to vote for you to the detriment of the spirit of the competition is one of them.
What is the answer? One remedy would be to take votes at the show only. A system where you dropped a token, given at the gate, into the box of your favourite garden might work. Still, an online vote has the chance to involve so many more people that I doubt the RHS would be happy to drop it completely.
There should be a way, though, to distinguish between votes awarded by people who can be deemed to have looked at most of the gardens (show visitors) and to have a real opinion, and those merely voting because someone has asked them to. Results should be given of both onsite and online voters.
I think the difference would be heartening for those without a large organisation behind them, and the People's Choice could be deemed to mean something.