EACH APRIL THE Delaware Valley Chapter of NARGS kicks off its spring schedule with a flower show. This venerable tradition allows our horticultural wizards to show off their treasures and offers future wizards a chance to dip their toes in the water. Members see familiar plants beautifully grown or new plants they might like to grow. The show is fairly low key and works well. In part, this is because instead of the usual chair rotation our show chair, Rad MacFarlane, has done the job for ten years. He and his vice-chairs, Michelle Hall and Gwynne Ormsby, have a seasoned committee who look forward to working at the show. Another bonus is that many of our members have worked at the Philadelphia Flower Show as committee members or exhibitors. That show is held at the beginning of March, and most years we fight snow and ice as well as sharp-elbowed competitors. In contrast, our chapter shows are usually blessed with benign weather and friendly competition. Many of the entries are plants that have been passed along from member to member as gifts or purchased at our seasonal sales, so members see old friends, both people and plants.
How to organize a chapter show:
Find a location that offers plenty of space and large folding tables and chairs for the meeting. This may mean a single large room or adjacent rooms. There should be adequate parking space as well. A central location is necessary as we, like many chapters, have members from four different states. Some places are free while others are not.
Posting the date, show location, rules, and classes a few months before the show in the chapter newsletter gives members adequate time to plan to enter the show. The show chair may modify, and or delete classes from year to year, so it is important to publish the information each year.
On the day of the show, the committee must arrive early to set up well before the posted entry time. Up to twelve tables are needed. For large classes, a whole table is used while smaller classes can share a table with a ribbon separating the classes. Two tables are set up for entry preparation and grooming (of entries, not entrants), and two tables are set up for entry registration. Tablecloths cover all tables. The tables for entry will be clearly marked with classes to be entered by each of the clerks: classes 1-4, 5-8, and 9 – 12. Over on the show tables, signs are posted showing in bold the class name and number. Two containers, one for ballot paper and one for voting, as well as multiple pencils, should be placed at each table.
Rad gathers a committee of knowledgeable helpers: three clerks who check each entry for correct identification, nomenclature, adherence to schedule and rules. Then the entry is passed (accepted) and recorded on the entry sheet and given an entry number and a “P” indicating its readiness to go.
A stager then takes the entry to the appropriate class. After the entry time has closed and Rad has double checked that all is well, Rad invites members to view the show. Then members vote, picking a favorite for each class plus a vote for best of show. About half an hour is allowed for voting, and then members go off to the meeting. Rad and a helper go to work, tallying the votes for each class, marking down first and second place winners (and ties) for each class. At the close of the meeting, all winners are announced including both plant and owners’ names. First and second place winners receive prizes, usually choice plants from our chapter’s exhibit in the Philadelphia Flower Show. Another source of prizes comes from donations from nurseries our members support. Lastly, results are published in a future chapter newsletter. After members have had time to view the show, members remove their entries and pick up ribbons; it’s time to clean up and leave the show location as we found it. The equipment is packed up for another year.
What can go wrong? A few possibilities are etched in my memory. The room for the show can be locked, and it can take precious time to find someone who can open it. When that happens Rad and his team go into fast forward to set up. Sometimes experienced exhibitors think they remember the show location, but go to the wrong place. One person carried his treasures into a yoga class. Sometimes people don’t read the class descriptions and turn up with entries that don’t conform to the schedule or rules. Or many arrive as entry time is closing, laden with plants, and expect clerks to fill out entry cards, identify plants, and suggest classes. Rad, always Mr. Nice Guy, signals to us to keep accepting entries after closing time as he aims for a full show. I try to be helpful to novices, but my geniality diminishes with age and the hours since that day’s breakfast. I expect experienced exhibitors to be able to fill out entry cards, know their plants and the schedule and arrive in a timely fashion. I do let latecomers in but tell them that as voting is underway, they may not get prizes. If they are competing with me I feign sympathy. Could this be schadenfreude? But some very nice plants from late-comers add to the look of the show, always a bonus. Kinder, more patient, clerks scramble to help with late entries.
Often the trough class houses the best in show. Again, it is Rad who has led many trough workshops, so members are well equipped. At its best, a trough shows the artistry and horticultural skill of the exhibitor. We used to have a talented member named John Ray who brought the most impressively beautiful troughs to both the Philadelphia show and ours. After retiring as an architect, he went into rock gardening with total dedication. Nothing was too much trouble as he amassed a collection of interesting plants from seed, cutting or purchase. He would think nothing of driving great distances to get the perfect tufa, etc. He has a range of greenhouses and cold frames. He and Betsy live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, not the easiest climate for rock gardening, but he rises to the challenge. His troughs are works of art. His practice is to plant a show trough about a week before the show, choosing his best plants (mostly in bloom) and creating a little world that looks as if it had been there for a long time. His artistry includes a drawing for the plant identification, and both the trough and drawing are works of art. No little pins with numbers for my pal John’s troughs. Sadly, an illness in the family has kept him from our meetings for several years. He is remembered for his entries and his generosity. Once he brought enough Primula allionii to share with every member. At the Philadelphia Flower Show, volunteers drive the distance to bring some of his entries to that show as Ray entries raise show quality.
After fifty years of exhibiting I’ve learned a few things helpful to exhibitors. Planning ahead is of paramount importance, but being open to last-minute opportunities is helpful. I plan to enter the bulb class by ordering and forcing rock garden bulbs. Although April is always chapter show time, the weather brings forth different possible entries. My fellow members are often able to dig what’s in bloom from their gardens just before the show. Last minute digging damages my plants and my self-esteem so I dig early and park possible entries in my little cold frame a month or so before the show. Some members have greenhouses which bring forth lovely entries. Despite all my planning, I may need to speed up or slow some entries down. To push laggards ahead, I put them in all the sun I can get or under plant lights and water with warm water. To slow down the precocious, I take them out of sunlight, water with icy water, and put them in the refrigerator for most of the hours of each day. My husband is acclimated to seeing plants in the frig though he does remark that his favorite foods, but not mine, are banished to make space for the plants. I feign surprise.
It’s great to work as part of the team at a chapter flower show. You can be helpful to exhibitors, and you get to look at the entries up close. Rad is always appreciative of helpers so it’s a delight to work for him. So be a worker, an exhibitor, or simply one who enjoys seeing the entries at any show.
At the Delaware Valley Chapter study weekend in May 2019, we hope you will come laden with show entries or admiration for those plants that have made the trip. Look for the show schedule and rules to be sent when you register for the weekend.
Thanks to Dr. Rad MacFarlane for providing me with all the information on the nuts and bolts needed to put on a chapter show.
The DVC show rules:
•Entries must have been in exhibitor’s possession for a minimum of three months prior to the show.
•There is a maximum of three plants per class by an exhibitor.
•Winners are decided by popular vote in each class plus best of show.
•Plants should be potted in clean pots, well groomed, mulched, and tagged with botanical names.
•Plants must be entered between 9 and 9:30 am
The schedule of classes:
1. Bloom: rock garden plant in bloom
2. Foliage: rock garden plant shown for foliage.
3. Succulent: sempervivum, sedum, jovibarba, rosularia, or like
4. Bulb: rock garden bulb in bloom
5. Primrose: any member of the primrose family in bloom
6. Container: troughs or containers planted with one or more plants
7. Seed: Plant: any rock garden plant grown from seed by exhibitor
8. Shrub: rock garden shrub, evergreen or deciduous
9. Woodland: any appropriate woodland plant including ferns, grasses, shrubs
10. Native: a plant native to within 50 miles of Philadelphia
11. Branch: a branch of any one shrub displayed in a bottle
12. Novice: any plants in classes 1,4,8 or 9 grown by a member who has entered but never won a ribbon in a DVC chapter show.