By: Richard J. Anthony
It shouldn’t matter whether you are a novice or a seasoned exhibitor as it all begins with planning as we head closer to the official first day of Spring. When you notice a daffodil pushing up and the forsythia are not too far behind, your thoughts might want to turn towards an honest evaluation; how well did you do last year at the rose shows. Where do you want to be when compared to how well you actually did last year and obviously what are you willing to do in order to become a better exhibitor. Are you trying to become the best exhibitor in the area or are you going to exhibit for the first time? Or, does the question lie somewhere in between? Once you have honestly considered where you are in relation to where you want to be, forming a game plan is the next logical step.
Your well thought out game plan should take you to where you want to go. It should include the necessary steps that will take you to the next level whether you will be exhibiting for the very first time or if you are on the verge of becoming a serious national exhibitor. Improvement is the name of the game and the way to accomplish that objective is to have a game plan. Your favorite sports team does it so why not you?
Assuming you have rose beds with amended soil that will grow good roses, the first item on your game plan agenda should be roses. In business, top performers typically incorporate a philosophy of up or out. It is no different with roses. Yes, you can have an old favorite or two that may never win a blue ribbon but a garden full of them will do you no good come rose show day. Take a look at ARS publications that discuss winning roses for the past five and ten year periods. Subscribe to Horizon Roses; a must have publication dedicated towards an honest evaluation of new roses by a team of over 80 top exhibitors from all over the continental US. Ask the best exhibitors in your area what wins. Once you have done this, it will not become too difficult a task to compare your roses to what wins and begin the process of weeding out or shovel pruning as exhibitors tend to refer to culling a rose. To have all roses that have the potential to win Queen can take some time depending on how many roses you have. If your garden is small it can happen all at once or if you have a sizable garden it may take a few years to accomplish; the point is that if you want to win you must have winning roses.
In addition to having roses in your garden that are proven winners, having a mentor will help you immensely to accomplish your objectives. It doesn’t matter if your objective is to become the best exhibitor there is or if you want to win your first blue ribbon; a mentor will reduce the time it takes for you to succeed and show you how to have more fun in the process. Your mentor will be there for you; to answer your questions and help you along the way. He or she will also help you to avoid a lot of the mistakes most of us have made before or at least eliminate and/or reduce the total number. It is fairly common knowledge that it takes about six years of serious exhibiting to be able to compete at the national level. It is almost as difficult to win that first blue ribbon at a local rose show without some assistance from a friend or mentor. Your helping hand can be the best local exhibitor or an exhibitor who has fared well at district and national rose shows. Ideally this individual will live within close proximity. Living reasonably close to each other will allow your mentor to visit your garden so they might see firsthand how you are doing as opposed to relying on your description of how your roses are coming along. I refer to this as “interpretative gardening”. All of us have had at one time or another the “looks like’ conversation which doesn’t always produce the absolute best results. While living close to each other is ideal, it is better to have a mentor who is some distance away than to have none at all.
Another very much overlooked aspect about exhibiting is clerking. If you clerk not only will you gain a better understanding of why a rose wins but you will also gain an insightful appreciation for what judges look for when evaluating a winning rose just by paying attention to what they say to each other. Most local rose shows will welcome newcomers and serious exhibitors alike as clerks. We typically request to clerk at district and national rose shows. This is done primarily for two very important reasons. When you clerk with a team of top judges, you are going to gain some knowledge that you did not possess beforehand. The other important aspect is that your expenses associated with the rose show may be tax deductible. Another perhaps more important benefit is that more often than not you are going to have fun; especially when you know the judges on your team. Bear in mind that for the most part, clerks are there to assist the judges but should be seen and not heard and stay in the background.
One last suggestion about your planning endeavor is to read anything and everything you can about growing and exhibiting roses. Bob Martin’s book “Showing Good Roses” will help the novice as well as the seasoned exhibitor improve their chance of winning at rose shows. Horizon Roses will help all exhibitors select new roses for their garden that have the potential to win. It is also important to review the results of past rose shows from around the country at www.roseshow.com and to see what is and has been winning in your local area. You might be surprised in light of the guidelines for judging roses to find out that some areas or districts have preferences or perhaps it is nothing more than certain roses just happen to do better in some areas of the country. It is better to know up front that a white rose has won queen of Show 4 out of the past 5 years before you enter 4 pink blend roses for queen and use your white roses in challenge classes. Or you might want to consider doing what I frequently do when I venture into a new area. I will take roses that typically have not appeared as winners believing that a new rose has an added benefit in the judge’s eye.
Last but not least regarding your game plan should be to purchase a copy of the ARS publication “Guideline for Judging Roses”. The more an exhibitor understands about what a judge looks for and how a rose is judged, the better you will become at exhibiting at rose shows. Read, experiment, talk to your mentor but most of all have fun exhibiting.