Experiences from an Industry Insider
Flower show are competitive events for displaying floral design, garden design, and horticultural specimens. The National Council on State Garden Clubs continues to be the standard guide for local flower shows. Horticultural society flower shows have regional events with large participation and attendance. The larger shows provide a venue for commercial entities and organizations to create large display gardens. Two well-known flower shows are The RHS Chelsea in Chelsea, London and The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, in the U.S., both sponsored by horticultural societies. These huge shows require corporate sponsorship and vast venues. They are difficult to stage and finance, and like trade shows, are being superseded by online marketing. A more typical, local flower show is run, top to bottom, by volunteers interested in the thrill of garden design and plant material.
I’ve participated in a few large-scale flower show displays. They showcase green industry design professionals’ abilities and promote new business, promote floral and landscape companies, and provide valuable educational displays. The image above shows the setup and preparation for a display of hundreds of forced daffodils in bloom. The exhibit was built to promote the purchase of wildflower tags to fund the planting of new daffodil plots. It was fun to construct and quite beautiful for the brief moments it was in place. For large-scale flower shows, everything must be set up and taken down within a few days. You need trucks, a crew of heavy-lifters, access to large props, and masses of plant material. After creating a few displays, I have to say, the process not enjoyable, unless you really love to show off. The real fun is in the competitions and seeing the display gardens built by other groups.
Flower show design exhibits are judged for design, staging, and creativity. It is amazing to see how clever some people can be! Flower show horticultural exhibits are judged for health, size, bloom, and foliage. Single specimens are held in individual glass bottles, and special collections are staged in groups, called classes. All entries are held to specifications established in a written schedule, in an attempt to keep judging fair and unbiased. A schedule and theme for all the show’s classes is written solely for the event, so each flower show is unique. Ribbons and awards are presented to outstanding entries, with standards of judging established by the sponsoring organizations.
In the design competition category, the judging results can be a surprise. Some judges like old-fashioned designs. Others like things light and airy. Others love sumptuous, romantic designs. Judging is sometimes based on personal preference or sentimentality. Try not to become discouraged if your prized creation get a white ribbon with judging comments like, “too many components” or “too realistic.” A flower show is like the Oscars for floral design, with a few blue-ribbon shockers in every show. If you receive critical remarks from the judges, who are volunteers, your design may still be good. I have seen fabulous floral arrangements in a flower show dismissed for subjective reasons.
If you want to win a flower show competition, here are some typical ways to improve your chances.
For large gardens and educational displays.
• Use bold, dramatic color
• Keep the design simple
• Include elements that will wow visitors
For horticultural specimens
• Use species and cultivars that are unique
• Pick stems in full fruit or flower
• Try to find the largest stem allowable in the show schedule
• Groom the specimen and remove dead leaves
For floral designs
• Follow the basic principles of design
• Scale your design appropriately for the space
• Use dramatic contrast in texture and color
• Use stems with very large blooms that can be seen easily from a distance
• Limit the number and type of components in your design. Judges hate cluttered designs.
Enjoy the show!