Many of you know I am in the GCA Horticulture Judging program, but I am not sure that you know that means I am expected to enter Flower Shows. Like many of you, I have looked at the entries and thought, or even said aloud, “I could do as well or better than that!” But then, to DO as well as or better than that, one must ENTER. And that seems intimidating and mysterious. Do I have the exotic, fabulous, never-seen-before item to really compete? And what IS it that they are looking at?
Well, I am here to tell you it is not so difficult or stressful as you might think. Unlike our Floral Design Arranger friends, we Horties do NOT have to be fabulously creative and clever. All we have to do is be appreciative and discriminating. So what does THAT mean? It means paying attention to details. My Jack-in-the-Pulpit got a third because I had the Jack and ONE leaf stem; the winner had the Jack between TWO leaf stems. And the wonderful Passer took a Q-tip with alcohol and swabbed small bits of dirt out of the throat. My Solomon’s Seal was fabulous, with blossoms open as well as about to open - very desirable; I got a third - two leaves had small slices in them; the winner had NO slices. My Deutzia got a second and the comment that I needed to do more grooming; I had missed those tiny dead sticks that detract from the beauty and snap off easily.
So what’s next? Identification. I go to Google and enter the name I know. It will give me common for botanical or the reverse. It will not always be complete, and even, sometimes, not 100% accurate, but it’s a start. Then, not having it on the entry card in ink, I can get help from those wonderful Passers. They WANT one to succeed; they want a quality show; and they are there to help with names and, if there is time, grooming advice. For instance, I learned that my Solomon’s Seal is commutatum, NOT odoratum. And I can now remember to use single quotes when I list specific cultivars. Usually, I just have sp. (species, a handy catch-all), but I am working on THAT and found that the CBG identified my Deutzia as gracilis (Slender Deutzia)…… another benefit. I now have a data base on my computer of what it IS I have and I am always surprised to see the list grow. For someone living in Cleveland Heights who has the typical dozen plants that will grow in clay and shade, my list is beginning to make me feel like a gardener!
Now if you think I spend hours lovingly going through the garden, you don’t know me well. Everything I entered was done in about 15 minutes time. Does it have 3 stages of bloom? Are the leaves clean and entire? Can I gently trim away any bad edges? But a lot is just looking around. I had a hosta that some bad boy (animal) had dug up; most of it was a mess but as I picked it up, there was one whole leaf broken off and there was nothing wrong with it. Throw it out? NO! Enter it. One friend had a lovely begonia in an outdoor planter from which something inadvertently snapped off a stem with a lovely flower. Throw it out? No – Club Flower Show today; she won BEST of Show. It is like the Lottery’s slogan “You can’t win if you don’t enter.” As a lark, I snipped a piece of Lamium maculatum ‘Herman’s Pride’ (sounds so much better than Dead Nettle, don’t you think?). The judges commented that one rarely sees it standing up and intact, usually stepped on and raggedy. BLUE! You really ought to enter! Call me before the next show and I will walk with you in your garden and we will focus on the lovely specimens you have and YOU can lose YOUR noviceness too!