by Jo Ann Graham, OAGC Accredited Judge and past State President
As an accredited Ohio Association of Garden Clubs Flower Show Judge I am often asked what I look for when I judge a horticulture or artistic flower show. The first thing I look for when starting to judge horticulture or artistic classes is: has the exhibitor followed the schedule?
The flower show schedule is the law or rules of the show. A show is only as good as its schedule and it is the first thing an exhibitor should study at length before planning or entering exhibits. If something is confusing or if there is something that isn’t understood, ask the show chair or show committee. Don’t guess at what is meant on the schedule.
Entries in the Horticulture division (cultivars/speciments/exhibits) are to be well groomed. Is the cultivar clean? Is all dirt and pesticide washed away? You wouldn’t come to the fair with a dirty face so your best exhibit shouldn’t either!
Is the cultivar free of disease or pests? An exhibit should not be brought to a show showing any type of disease or have insects. This is especially important if you are showing houseplants or container grown plants. Diseases and pests can spread quickly to other exhibits and are reason for an exhibit being removed from the show and/or disqualified by the judge.
Are there dead pieces of leaves or flowers attached to the cultivar? Could the cultivar be improved in some way? A good exhibitor takes the time to remove all old flowers and dead leaves. Leaves or petals can be carefully trimmed a little to remove all brown edges so a judge won’t notice.
An important rule to follow in a horticulture show in certain classes, is one of disbudding. Disbudding is removing the side bud or shoot from round form flowers such as roses, zinnias, marigolds, dahlias, daisies, etc. Don’t just pinch out the bud – remove the whole side shoot to the main stem carefully by pinching or using a small pair of scissors. Disbudding should be neat and in many cases done a day or days prior to the show depending on the cultivar.
Many cultivars are shown as sprays. A spray is a single main stem with blooms or florets borne on pedicels or lateral branches, led by a terminal bloom, which blooms first. I always tell the exhibitor to look at the stem for a Y. This indicates there are two sprays – one on each side of the main stem. Each spray should have as many blooms and buds as possible. The old center or terminal flower should be removed if past its prime. Examples of flowers shown as sprays are marigolds, petunias, phlox, etc.
Another problem I find is the exhibitor is not labeling or writing the variety name of the cultivar on the entry tag. In many shows this keeps the exhibitor from winning a ribbon – or worse, a rosette! Keep all labels of the plants in your garden. Label in the garden and/or keep a chart of your plantings. Don’t just make up a name or look in a catalog and pick something out that is similar. Know what you grow. Labeling means giving the variety of cultivar not just zinnias but what variety of zinnia: ‘Border Beauty’ Zinnia, ‘Oklahoma’ Zinnia, ‘Big Tetra’ Zinnia, etc.
Be sure to exhibit correct number of cultivars according to the schedule. The schedule will indicate whether one, two, three, four, etc. blooms, spikes, sprays are to be shown. If exhibiting more than one, all cultivars should look exactly alike as to maturity, color, form, size, etc. They should look like identical twins, triplets, etc.
Winning a ribbon in horticulture does not mean just growing the best flower or plant but skill in grooming and preparing your exhibit. Planning ahead, studying the schedule, and learning how a flower or plant is judged helps you win.
The Ohio Association of Garden Clubs hold Exhibitors’ and Judges’ Schools twice a year. It is a venue for training new flower show judges, providing continuing education for current flower show judges and teaching exhibitors the ins and outs of exhibiting in a flower show.