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Judges of Distinction

The entries received for the Landscapes of Distinction Awards have changed over the last few years, as has how the awards are judged. This year’s judges, Penny Cliffin, Craig Wilson and Craig Wallace share their thoughts on these changes

Head judge Penny Cliffin explains that, in the past, judges would visit sites and assess each landscape entry on site. Now, it’s all done remotely.

“We started going online two years ago,” says Penny. “Entrants now submit an extensive portfolio of plans, photographs and sometimes videos of their entry. Videos are particularly useful for us when it comes to assessing entries from a spatial perspective, and I would highly recommend any entrant to provide one with their submission.”

Meet the judges!

There are three judges, each with their own speciality:

Penny Cliffin, Director of Hikoi Garden Tours, landscape architect and former lecturer in landscaping, takes the lead on plants.

Craig Wilson, a registered landscape architect and managing director of Form Garden Architecture, in Christchurch, assesses entries from a landscape architecture

perspective. Lastly, Craig Wallace, a Licensed Building Practitioner and director of CJW Build, in Hamilton, assesses the entries on the quality of their construction.

“We all view the portfolios, then two out of three do the assessment,” Penny explains. “There’s one lead judge and a back-up – we assign judges depending on the type of entry and which of our expertise matches best with each entry.”

All three judges have judged the awards before, so are familiar with the process. Their views give some insight into how the awards have developed over time.

Scaling Up

When asked what has changed about the entries themselves, Penny points to growth in scale. “I’ve been judging for four years and I am seeing an increase in the size of entries being submitted for consideration, such as large-scale restoration and revegetation projects, and landscape installations alongside highway construction.

“Entries also now include full-scale plantscapes as entrances to cities and towns, such as at Auckland and Hastings airports.”

Penny says there have been some unique projects in recent years, giving entrants new scope.

“With composite-commercial entries such as the Smales Farm site in Takapuna, there are multiple restaurants and significant plantscapes inside and outside. It’s thrilling to see such big undertakings being completed and even more so to see them competing and taking out these awards.”

Quality Materials

This year is Craig Wilson’s third outing as a judge for Landscapes of Distinction. He has seen a number of changes in that time and has noted the improved quality of materials used and an increase in the appearance of outdoor rooms.

“The overall quality of entries has risen in recent years, without a doubt,” says Craig.

“The documentation of the entries has also improved, which is important, since we are not doing site visits any more. Good plans and high-quality photographs are essential for us to carry out our assessment.

“In terms of the landscapes themselves, designers are specifying high-quality, durable, sustainable materials that also look fantastic. Client budgets are expanding too, allowing designers to do a very thorough job.

“I’m expecting we will see more outdoor rooms this year – spaces that blur the distinction between indoor and outdoor living, which is actually something that’s been a trend overseas that we are now following.”

Building expertise

The construction component of a landscape project is the trickiest element to judge remotely, says Craig.

“It’s harder to judge the construction side of things without being there. I’m looking at the finer details – the timber and concrete, rock, stone. Basically, anything that is not a plant. I’m looking at how well it’s been executed, the workmanship, the finish. So, to do this remotely, I need good, close-up photos.”

As an experienced builder, Craig knows what to look for and sets his standards high.

“We have some very good builders in New Zealand, so there is a high bar to compare landscapers against.

“Many of the landscapers who enter the awards are capable of very impressive build quality, so I am looking forward to seeing more excellent work again this year.”

Craig has noted some themes in recent years that he expects to see continued this year.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing landscapers getting into different finishes of concrete, including coloured concrete. Lighting is becoming important now, too. And I’ve seen outdoor fires becoming very popular, so I’ll be interested to see if those trends continue.”

Winner takes all?

All of the judges agree that, while winning is a great boost for those who take the top awards, and can be a very useful marketing tool, the process of entering is valuable in itself – as Penny explains:

“Compiling a portfolio for submission provides a fantastic learning opportunity when it comes to presenting and selling your work – both visually and in writing.

“The bigger companies are often already good at this, so the smaller outfits can pick up a lot of tips to help them sell their skills and expertise in the market. There is a lot to get out of entering the awards, whether you end up winning or not.”

Registered Master Landscapers is committed to supporting landscape professionals and supporting young future leaders.

For more information contact CEO Janine Scott on or phone 0275 444 090


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