Not long ago I had the honor of judging the South Carolina Rose Show in Columbia, S.C. As an accredited horticultural judge for the American Rose Society, I get to eye the best blooms grown by the best exhibitors on the East Coast. This show was really special because among the entries was one of the finest blooms of the hybrid tea Pop Warner I have seen in many years.
And that sighting was just the beginning of a day full of visual treats.
One of the cool things about this show is that was held at the South Carolina State Fair. In addition to viewing an impressive collection of roses, there were plenty of other fun things to do.
My British husband attended a cattle auction and was mesmerized by the auctioneer. Apparently they don’t have such fast talkers in the U.K. He also was amazed by the varieties of food he’d never heard of, including elephant ears. We both managed to avoid the fried Twinkie on a stick (although I was tempted by a corn dog.)
The judging took longer than usual because there were so many deserving blue ribbon winners in the hybrid tea class. Out of 40 stunning blooms, and after many rounds of voting, the oldie but goodie Pop Warner was named queen.
As I wandered around between votes, I couldn’t help but notice all the people eagerly waiting outside the ropes for the event to open. That scene took me back to the day when I stumbled upon my first show.
A happy accident
I’m often asked how I got interested in growing roses and the truth is, it happened because I was strolling through a mall in Newport News, Va., a number of years ago and passed several tables filled with all kinds of beautiful roses in just about every color.
Some had huge blooms; others were as tiny as a pencil eraser. There were elegant hybrid teas with their high spiraling centers and old-fashioned sprays that reminded me of bushes my grandmother had on her Michigan farm.
I wanted to learn more, so I joined the local rose society and have been addicted to roses ever since. One of the great things about joining a society is that the “old timers” are happy to share their secrets of success and will even teach you how to properly groom a rose for a show.
When I entered my first Novice Show, one of my flowers won a red ribbon! The experienced exhibitors explained I might have gotten a blue, but my stem was too short. It’s a common mistake – several very nice entries at the South Carolina show were downgraded because the stem was either too short or too long.
Others were disqualified because a rose was misnamed, the bloom was entered in the wrong class, or was not entered according to the guidelines of the show schedule (like putting blooms in one vase instead of separate ones.) Two gorgeous hybrid teas were disqualified because the exhibitor had left cotton balls inside the petals in hopes of making the rose open up before the judges arrived.
Even beginners can be winners
The rules of exhibiting may sound daunting, but they really aren’t if you follow the guidelines with care. In addition, attending or entering a show will give you tips and insights you won’t find elsewhere.
Almost every community in the country sponsors rose shows. Some are in the spring, others in the fall. They all have categories for novice exhibitors. And they all have people there who would love to help you learn more about growing roses.
So ask your local society about an upcoming show. You might win a ribbon, or a trophy. Better yet, you might find yourself hooked for life on the world’s most beloved flower.
PSSST: If you catch the rose show bug, find a few categories where you won’t have to compete with the really serious exhibitors. Most shows have classes for Most Fragrant, Fully Open Bloom, or Single Bloom (four to eight petals.) Enter a pretty spray in the Polyantha category, and you’ll have a great chance of walking away with a trophy.
Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. After a recent move, she grows roses and other plants in her garden in the mountains of western North Carolina. To read more by Lynn, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter.