Showing your best at horticultural bench shows

Horticultural bench shows and country fairs have been taking place in Alberta for over a century.

Horticultural bench shows and country fairs have been taking place in Alberta for over a century.

The popularity of the show rises and falls with time but they are part of Alberta’s heritage. Central Alberta boasts many shows: Lacombe — Aug 18 and Red Deer — Aug. 20 are two of the best advertised ones.

The public is encouraged to bring in their flowers and produce to be judged.

Equally important, other people can view the displays and learn what grows well in their area. Expect to see flowers, potted plants, produce, grains and forages. Some shows will combine horticulture with home arts and crafts.

When the weather co-operates, is sunny and warm, entrees are usually high. Rain the day before the show ruins flowers and makes vegetables hard to harvest, resulting in fewer entries.

To enter, pick up a show guide and read the instructions carefully. Competitors are being judged on how well they follow instructions as well as what they enter. Points will be lost if instructions are not followed.

Place flowers in a clear glass or plastic container unless otherwise stated. This allows the judge to count the number of stems quickly and to dock marks if there are leaves in the water.

Fruit and vegetables that are on a plate stay together and are easier for the volunteers to move and arrange. When entries call for more than one of an item choose ones that are similar in size. While one large pansy can be a conversation piece, the judges will not be impressed.

Points are gained by including the name and variety of each entry. This information makes the show much more interesting for visitors. People will often come with paper and pens to write down the names of outstanding selections, planning to include them in their garden the following year.

Judges must attend judging school and apprentice before they are certified to judge at bench shows. They know what to look for and if there is a doubt they consult a booklet called Judging Standards for Horticultural Shows put out by the Alberta Department of Agriculture. Serious competitors read this booklet carefully before they enter.

The condition of the flower is worth 30 points. They should be free of water spots and insect damage. Trimming blemishes away will be noticed by a competent judge. Flowers must have the correct number of petals. If the flower looks unbalanced the judges will count petals. The flowers should be fresh, not looking like they will soon die.

Stem and foliage are worth 20 points. Stems should be straight and strong. It should divide the flower in two symmetrical pieces.

Leaves should not have blemishes and be in proportion to the flowers.

Remove all leaves that will be placed inside the container. Leaves that are placed in water rot, turning the water green. The judges automatically remove points for this mistake.

The last 10 points are awarded for the plant being true to its variety. These points are hard to award unless the variety is listed on the entry ticket.

Design plays the largest part in floral arrangements — 70 points. It takes into consideration the overall design, colour combinations, the originality of the design and where it is to be placed.

Read the show book; a dinning room table arrangement will be low but a dinning room arrangement might be any size depending on where it is to be placed. The last 30 points are awarded for texture of materials, appropriate container and condition of flowers and foliage.

Requirements for potted plants change with category. The emphasis in the foliage plant class is on foliage and how true the plant is to variety.

Flowering plants differ in that the flowers are also judged for colour, display and size of blossoms.

Cacti and other succulents receive 40 points for condition and 20 points awarded for how difficult the plant is to grow. As with flowers, points are given if the plant is true to variety. Once again these points cannot be given if the tag has not been completely filled out. Extra points are also given to rare plants.

When looking at produce, the judges check for good quality. Large produce is cut open. They are looking for fruit with appropriate texture, lack of fibre, good flavour and aroma.

All specimens should be of similar size and colour. Large ones are given preference; if they are in good condition. Leave bruised and insect damaged fruit at home. Pick ones with a nice clear colour. Be sure to write down the variety. If in doubt, put a question mark beside the variety. Often the judge will fill in missing information.

The quality of vegetables is very important. Make sure they are at their peak, not immature or past their prime. All specimens should be of a uniform size and free of blemishes.

It is important to leave a one-half inch (one centimetre) stem on all fruits and vegetables.

Presentation of vegetables is important. If the show guide doesn’t give specific information, purchase Judging Standards for Horticultural Shows from your local Department of Agriculture or order it on line.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at