Staging Your Produce at Flower Shows
11th Aug 1999
There's no better satisfaction to be had from the garden than seeing all the hard work you put into it over many weeks and months now coming to maturity. Better still is the satisfaction derived when the produce is possibly the best that you have ever grown. If you are a relatively new exhibitor, then it doesn't even matter if you don't win the red card at your show as you will be more than satisfied to have staged an exhibit that was truly your very best.
Staging your produce at flower shows to be meticulously scrutinised by the judges is the only real way for any grower to know how good his stuff is. Many times I have heard the visiting public say at shows, 'I"ve left better than those at home' - it's a pity they don't show these so that we could all learn from their particular method of growing. These people( who I call Show cynics) really get under my skin and when asked why they don't stage their 'better than everyone else's exhibit', you usually get a reply that they much prefer to see it growing in the garden than being exhibited. Another comment I heard only last year was ‘these are far too big, I much prefer my vegetables from the local supermarket'. Another type that really gets me going is the one who silently sniggers and says to his mate, ‘they're are all right to look at but they can't be eaten, you know'. Well, I have news for those types of cynics; the majority of show vegetables are absolutely delicious, pulled at the peak of perfection just when they have achieved the right flavour. If a vegetable is unfit for eating, being either too old or too tough, then it shouldn't be staged in the first place. The National Vegetable Society has a great saying ‘If you can't eat it, you don't show it'.
Thankfully, these days we have firm standards for judges as laid out in either the Royal Horticultural Society Show handbook or the National Vegetable Society Judges Guide. These standards have been set out so that judges can arrive at the correct decision in every class. Each vegetable has been given points value commensurate with the degree of difficulty in growing as near a perfect specimen as possible. These guides are not written in tablets of stone, they are regularly re-written and brought up to date with the main emphasis being always on the term ‘Condition'. The word condition really says it all and I quote from the RHS handbook as to what it actually means; cleanliness, freshness, tenderness and presence or absence of coarseness and blemishes. Surely these are attributes that anyone buying vegetables at their local supermarket would be looking for as they select them. This criteria therefore makes sure that stringy, tough, misshapen, pest-eaten, disease-ridden, poorly blanched, over-sized (yes, it's not always the biggest that wins, but in most classes a good big one will always beat a good small one) limp, fangy or unevenly ripe shouldn't win the red card. ‘Size' is another criteria that is often misunderstood and leads many show cynics to the assumption that because they are larger than your normal supermarket type, they are inedible. Again let me quote from the Judges guide; Size - this is meritorious if accompanied by quality (but only in those circumstances) as the production of large specimens of good quality requires more skill than the production of small specimens.
Today, with the exception of home saved seed, most exhibitors are growing and exhibiting the top of the range F1 hybrids that have been bred with all the right attributes for the kitchen. People forget that nowadays vegetables are very rarely bred specifically for the showbench. Exhibitors are prepared to spend hours upon hours preparing their beds and soil properly so small wonder therefore that they grow their vegetables just a little larger than normal. I have to add here that the seed used are F1 hybrids in the traditional sense and not genetically modified. The other plus to growing and showing your own vegetables is that you know for certain which varieties you sowed, what treatment you gave to the soil and with what, if anything, they were sprayed. Even though my vegetables, and those of other fellow exhibitors, may be a little larger than normal and possibly a little better than the average, we would still select them in preference to any supermarket produce, however well they might look, simply because I know what I'm growing and eating.