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In depth piece on all aspects of showing and judging by Harry Lawson

In depth piece on all aspects of showing and judging by Harry Lawson

This is article I wrote in the early nineties; I have tried to make it interesting looking back

when I was full of energy & enthusiasm and the progress that as been made regarding computers & digital camera’s is beyond belief.

I attended college regarding both the use of computers & professional digital photography & attained a diploma in photography & certificates in computers, it was hard work, well worth the effort. When I was asked to write this article by Bill Wade, I wondered where to begin, it seems so long ago that the Chrysanthemums bug attacked me! Over the years I have gained experience and knowledge of my favourite flower.

What makes a top class exhibitor?

Firstly dedication, learn by your mistakes always keep a diary and note down your methods and programmes especially your successes always are willing to learn and adjust until you have a winning formula; never alter winning ways, we begin by planning what to grow and what grows for you, then the task of how many to grow, this is essential, once this is achieved, we ready to make a start after many months of careful attention to detail the blooms should be making good progress and with a bit of luck should be on time, timing is most essential and it takes time on a new site to get timing near as possible, to the shows you have in mind. Providing your timing has been right, plus a fair share of luck, your blooms have developed ready for exhibition table and you wish to use to best advantage. If you have been successful at your local Shows, you will become more ambitious and with steady improvement in flower quality from season to season you will look towards one of the major shows some way from home, when you think back in the early sixties The National Chrysanthemum Society had over 20.000 Members & competition was strong. Then there was no side attractions like there is to-day. Like most societies have suffered in the same way.


I did plan with the Major shows - the National in Stafford. In my case the Northern Group at Harrogate and the Scottish National Chrysanthemum and Dahlia show held in Paisley then Stirling. Southport and Ayr Shows Plus when there where Festival Shows which have been over the years, I can still remember Liverpool, Stoke, Gateshead, Glasgow, I have fond memories. Once again they are there no more. All of my local shows and near by Club shows, which helped the cost of my hobby. In my town alone there was 18 club shows I am afraid now they're all gone. Of course I was a glutton for punishment the Lates followed the earlies,
The other Exhibitor who had the same appetite as me was "Mr Chrysanthemum Man" himself Wallace Brook. If you ever want a example to follow this is your man. When I first started to grow seriously I made a point to visit him and I was made most welcome it’s a friendship I will always cherish. The death of Wallace Brook was felt through out the Chrysanthemums World which He was such a big loss.


Back to lates the first show was Woolman’s a very good guide to quality and timing. This is now held in Dorridge, before in Shirley. Once again I am afraid this as gone. Walker’s Nursery in Chester has continued to carry the flag. The National in London, ideal venue for showing off exhibits only problem traffic & staging & the cost hotels, guest houses & parking was the problem. Northern Group show was held in Lounge Hall in Harrogate then moved to Elsecar & now in Doncaster. Darlington Show a first class show and again another top exhibitor to contend with Bill Florentine in fact he was Mr Darlington when you realise he was the Secretary and the main exhibitor to the show, and I must mention the grand old gentleman Ted Shaw he his in is late eighties and still showing and judging. Bill Florentine was great hybridiser & just like me; we had Arnold Fitton to thank. Sad to say they both have passed away, William Florentine the flower was named after his son & what a great flower it is. I personally know Bill son. Even after many years experience, the best plans go astray and it is necessary to overcome snags and adjust plans the way things have worked out. Having decided to have a go, get schedules of shows as soon as possible or even better, go and see the conditions of these major shows for yourself-where keen competition is the general standard and set up. Go through the schedules from time to time as flower develop begin to think of what you will enter. These bigger shows, Entries close about a week before and when completing your entry form. Have a good look over your flowers and try to weigh up which will be at their best on the day. Don’t enter too many classes, but leave yourself room so that if all your flowers don’t come up to expectations, you can stage useful exhibits. Remember that it’s little use to have an entry in six vase class and only five vases flowers. If you have an experienced exhibitor friend remember that two heads are better than one and that you will get a safer assessment if you look over your flowers together.

Good idea to visit other exhibitors

Earlier in the season, you will gain from making an appointment to visit top exhibitors in your area. You will be made most welcome and the benefits you gain by this experience will be well worth the effort of getting around and seeing for yourself and take notes what impresses you, you will pick up lots of good ideas from seeing how they do things and you will meet other growers there and have jolly good chat.

Attend lectures whenever possible

In the winter, attend lectures whenever possible, not only your own local society but watch out for visits of the leading growers to a society within travelling distance and make the effort to go and hear him, you will be very welcome. Flowering time and when reading the schedule look at the regulations as well as the classes. Find out when you can stage, when the show staging has to be completed by, and always leave plenty time for staging, after all the hard work of growing to your best, why spoil by rushing your staging. If you find novice classes, make sure you are eligible as conditions vary so much from show to show, also if you must be a member, pay your subscriptions in good time, many societies take a poor view of an exhibitor joining a society a week before the show and enclosing an entry for every class in the schedule, although I would say the more entries the better.

Learn the Rules

You will not get far on the exhibition bench without a good knowledge of N.C.S. rules for Judging and a current classification of cultivars so familiarise yourself with these as soon as you can don’t rely on tradesmen’s catalogues for classification as they are usually published by the time the shows commence and will not be included in the official N.C.S. changes of classification which are made latter in the season.

Get a copy of the N.C.S. National Register with supplements, you now receive a copy of these each year with your year book, keep it up to date. When travelling far a field, make arrangements for bed and breakfast in advance as you won’t want to waste time after you arrive at the show. Ask other exhibitors for suitable places, they will know the good places at the right prices where the needs of exhibitors are. These days you have a good selection of Travel Lodges & Guest houses & very reasonable prices.

Equipment Checklist

Make sure before the show season begins that you have all the equipment you will need to take with you. Have a check list drawn up, what I have Is a box that keeps secateurs, pen, tweezers, cotton buds, and camel hair brush, small sponge for use of leaf shine, florist wire name of the bloom cards home made measuring stick made out a piece of dowling and 8"square piece of block board, hole drilled in the block board to the size of the dowling, marked off at 27"and 24"and 21,". I stage at the National 24" the back blooms 21" the front blooms. Other shows I stage at 27" back and 24" front, this measuring gadget has worked well for me over the years. A small towel is handy to make sure that your hands are clean and dry before you touch your blooms, add a good supply of packing material: newspaper, moss, or heather. Make sure to have your transport in first class condition.

Check on your mode for packing for your blooms that they are clean and serviceable, whether be drums or racks that are fitted to suit your car. Make sure they are made secure I should know the results by not doing this with the drums. I Was carrying to the late National in 1994. There are varying methods for carrying your blooms use which suits you best with everything ready we can start thinking about cutting.

Take no chances

Plants should have been watered regularly but don’t take chances, thoroughly water 24 hours before you cut. Try and cut early in the day, things are never ideal and you will often be forced to cut in the evening. As light falls quickly in September some grower mark the selected blooms before they cut use Twist-it’s or plastic coloured clothes pegs are ideas used-so that they can carry on for quite some time during falling light with the aid of torch-light. Wherever you grow, always take the container of water to the plant to ensure that the flowers keep maximum freshness. Make absolutely sure I plunge the bottom few inches of my stem in boiling water. I still have the Calor gas ring burner which I have had for over thirty years and make sure you give extra length of stem for doing this and keep the blooms at an angle the time for each bloom one minute, I do two at a time one in each hand, slit the stem and plunge in deep water, if possible in a cool dark place.

I would say packing is one of time consuming jobs in showing, so always allow plenty of time for packing. As for spare blooms I carry extra bloom when I take only one vase of a cultivar, but if I am taking two vases of the same cultivar for two multi-vase classes I usually carry the essential ten blooms and select the best five to place in the class where I feel I have the best chance of success. Very few of us can carry all the blooms that we would like to me my approach makes the best use of space available.
When I used to grow on an allotment and I did this for over twenty five years, I had to transport the blooms from the allotment to home, the bad part about this was the untold obstacles such as trying to get my allotment for parked cars, my allotment was near the local authority bowling ground, and my allotment was behind another allotment was quite a distance to carry drums of flowers, whilst loading my blooms into my car the general public would inquire how much for bunch of them, you can quite imagine what I replied. Like many other exhibitors, I prefer to travel and stage in a warm pullover, late shows I have a body warmer as well and change into a suit for opening of the show. The hall can be very cool at night and the pullover keeps you comfortably warm and yet allows free movement. So with the blooms packed and case packed with the necessary clothes and toilet gear etc, sandwiches cut and flask full we then set off. Whenever possible, plan your journey to allow for any delay and a break for refreshment, with plenty of time for staging. Avoid arriving in a major city at peak periods as the inevitable emergency stop; do nothing to improve the quality of your flowers. For really long journeys it would be beneficial to share the driving, I am afraid my wife doesn’t drive so I have no choice! These days with satellite route guidance computers such as the Tom-Tom are very efficient. Travelling conditions are rarely what you would choose sun, rain, wind and snow& frost, Yes snow,I have travelled to London Late show once when I left home in the snow, Harrogate late shows Three or four times over the years the worst part of theses conditions are if you solely rely on a box that travels on a roof-rack, I have used box that carried 50 Blooms.

The worst of these elements were high winds. One year I travelled to Glasgow through torrential rain when a boat would have been more suitable than my car. Arriving at the Palace of Arts, we got the box into the hall and water was coming out of bottom. When opened up all the upside-down blooms were wet, many of them Completely soaked, with the help of fan gradually they looked alot better by opening time. Normally I try to find a quiet spot in the hall, out of the main route of exhibitors going about their business and get the flowers out of containers and racks and into deeper water. Then a short break for a nice cup of tea and bite to eat and you feel much better, worst part of the job is behind you. If you have booked a room, go round and see the proprietor before it gets to late and check arrangements for getting in during the night as staging can take longer than you think, be warned about sharing the key with another exhibitor. Years ago I would stage all night and book a room for one night only, these days I am afraid I have not got the stamina to do this. So I stage till supper time and leave the staging of the vases till the following morning. I always took my spare blooms for the proprietor it does wonders to your stay and helps to make a friendship between you. Make sure you can find car parking with in easy distance, especially in London. Staging is most important, with every thing settled you can take your time with staging, so check every bloom for any damaged petals and carefully remove them, use your measuring stick make sure you have even balanced vase. 

Prepare your exhibits

I like to use Bio-leaf shine for the foliage, you can use paper for packing in the blooms, I would like to finish it off by hiding the paper with moss. Once you have completed vasing your blooms, Have a walk round the hall and look how top exhibitors stage their exhibits, this should give you ideas how you would like to stage yours. Try different blends of colours if you are in a multi-vase class, no problems in a single vase class, always look for up-staging your fellow exhibitor, for example if you have the same cultivar and yours is superior, stage it next to it.

Super atmosphere

Nobody can explain the atmosphere at staging time at the National or any of the major shows it has to be experienced and cannot be forgotten. In a nut shell it’s great! You meet your fellow exhibitors from novices making their first effort at the show to the experts with a lifetime of experience, all ready to talk over the results of the season. Over the years I have met exhibitors from all walks of life, stayed with them and returned their hospitality. No matter where I show I always find somebody I know whether It’s the National, Glasgow, Stirling, Harrogate, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leicester, Newcastle. Even so it has been a full season’s work growing your blooms, so pay full attention to good staging and try switching your vases round for maximum effect. 

When you are satisfied and judging time comes around, you go and wash and shave if you are male exhibitor, If your are female exhibitor do what Ladies do, I would like to praise the Ladies who are making their presence felt. We have some top ladies exhibitors with proven track records and without the ladies help were would all exhibitors be both Earlies and Lates. Including best vases National and other shows. Now don’t forget to take your spare blooms round to your hotel owner, it will work wonders if you ever wish to stay their again.

When the show opens, you will find even more friends have arrived, congratulations are exchanged and you look round the novelties to improve your collection. The nurserymen have always been very helpful to me, received me well exchanged ideas and settled any complaints I have. Don’t be misled by a few blooms in vase or trade stand at a show. Make a point of seeing them on the nurseries and try to get some idea if they will suit your conditions. Make a proper day out, take the family, spend an hour or so at the nursery and then go to something that the rest of the family will enjoy, and in this way everybody will be happy. So my advice to all growers who are successful locally is to try a big Show nearby and then branch out again from there. Always try to improve and be ready to listen to advice as you never stop learning, you can always move upwards, even at National level. I hope that more of you will show further a field in the future and will be rewarded with the Success.


This must be carried out in the rules set by N.C.S. the code for Judging, “Chrysanthemum Judging and Exhibiting Book," is your bible and every budding judge should read it thoroughly and digest. Most experienced exhibitors and all judges will be familiar with the contents of this book and code, and upon the correct interpretation and application Of these rules all good judging depends. Try and put your name forward to steward, you will learn allot from doing this, and this will put you in good stead.
I remember Bob Dawsey with fond affection taking me with him to watch him judge before taking my judges courses, and the dedicated way he carried out his task and tips he would give which proved most helpful.

What I will try and demonstrate in the following lines is to help the new exhibitor with certain guidelines to what judges will be looking for and secondly to discuss the qualities necessary before exhibitors can become proficient judges in their own right the most important advice anyone can give to a new exhibiter is" read your schedule carefully" and satisfy yourself what is required of it. Correct number of blooms, classification, colour where applicable, and all cultivars are named.
Staging though coming last in the points table is very important facet of exhibiting than the lowly position in the Tables would indicate. A well staged exhibit creates a good first impression, even if the individual blooms are not entirely faultless, as the judge is looking for flowers that are evenly matched not only in Size, but also stage of development and colour and. As the judge proceeds to inspection of the flowers themselves, he will automatically assess each against the standards required for each classification. I won’t go into detail of how each section of classification should be judged, what I would say form and freshness has always been my criteria size if coupled with the formers very good, size alone never.

You can tell any exhibit freshness by sheen of the flowers. If size was the paramount then you wouldn’t need judges, just measuring equipment to see which was the biggest in the old saying biggest is best the most important part of carrying out judging is having grown most sections of what you will be asked to judge and being familiar with different cultivars and of the efforts it takes to put a exhibit on the bench. Specialist judges of these different sections are required, although this at times can be difficult to achieve, especially at your local shows, National level this we try to do.

Always keep up to date with cultivars and get to know their good and bad points when judging the first thing to do, is to take staging into account, especially in multi-vases classes and take note good staging and point accorded. This should be a must in judging because once you start to judge it is easy to forget the staging part. A good steward will check to see that the exhibits conforms to schedule, and this is helps with the smooth running of judging, The worst part of a judge is to give a exhibit a N.A.S. I would say the "Jack Oldham Trophy" Has had more than it’s fair share of this One thing I would like to mention is that the last few years for the exhibitor has been spoilt by having to use insecticides more often than normal with insect world having built up resistance of immunity to the insecticides available to the amateur and the labour involved in spraying plus the costs, I feel that this will have to be over come or else we will lose future exhibitors.

To conclude and take into account I wrote this years ago with so many different outlooks on pleasure and recreation, and looking after chrysanthemums is like looking after children, which very time consuming; I am afraid as the old exhibitors and chrysanthemum enthusiast pass away there are very few to take their place. When I first started in 1961; there was over 20.000 members. To-day approximate 1400 members and societies have the losses the same. Biggest problem is travelling and traffic congestion, although the roads are far better than when I first started to travel.

I hope in some small way I have helped to make this great hobby of ours more enjoyable, wishing what you wish yourselves good growing and judging.