Undoubtedly growing vegetables for exhibition is a wonderful pastime or hobby and from which I have not only derived hundreds of happy hours, I have also made many good friends. However when does a hobby cease to be a hobby and becomes an obsession to the extent that winning that red card is the only thing that’s important?
There’s no one, anywhere in the World that can produce better quality show vegetables than the British show man, and this will be self evident very soon as the hundreds of flower shows all over the country become a stage for a day or two to the keen amateur grower. They need not be the large events, they are often small village shows where most of the leading exhibitors today would have had their first attempt at winning the famous Red first prize card.
Undoubtedly growing vegetables for exhibition is a wonderful pastime or hobby and from which I have not only derived hundreds of happy hours, I have also made many good friends. However when does a hobby cease to be a hobby and becomes an obsession to the extent that winning that red card is the only thing that”s important. I have always maintained that the day I cease to enjoy getting the thrill form the growing and the staging will the be the day that I shall pack it all in.
Finding the Right Balance
Undoubtedly there are tremendous pressures on growers these days to try and win at major shows, the standards are extremely high with hundreds of pounds of prize money at stake, so to a certain extent you have to be dedicated to your hobby in order to arrive at the pinnacle of your pastime. I have won numerous prizes at many shows culminating in two consecutive Gold medals at Chelsea, but this was only achieved through having the backing and support of a very understanding and participating wife.
Winning at all Costs
Sadly I know of too many growers who have succumbed to the temptation of winning at all costs and this sort of dedication has actually turned to an obsession and cost them, very sadly, their marriage. There is no doubt that you need to spend a lot of time during the growing season with your vegetables, but don’t exclude your wife from your hobby, they can all too easily become gardening widows. The other extreme and one that I hope is not going to be too common in the future, particularly with the prize money on the increase, is where the grower needs to win at any cost so that he actually stoops to cheating.
Cheating and Temptation
I myself , particularly during my early show days, have been offered various vegetables that would guarantee that I could win at a certain show; I was also offered a vegetable dish by a top grower that would, in the words of the tempter “enhance your vegetable display so much it will almost guarantee you the red card”. Thankfully I never fell for the temptation because if I had my reputation as a grower would have been in tatters.
I was also asked on one occasion to join up with another grower to stage a winning collection at a premier show, and afterwards share the prize money. I was so taken aback that he had a mouth full of abuse and that grower has never afterwards spoken a word to me. I even had one grower who wrote offering whatever money that I wanted to send him three top quality long carrots in a wooden box as he had poor germination with his own seed that year; what a cheek.
Over the years as an exhibitor and a judge I have seen many ways at which cheating takes place, though I have never knowingly awarded a red card to a an exhibit that has been “doctored”. The following are some of the things that I have come across and regularly takes place, sticking the flowers back on cucumbers with super glue, filling the base of onions that had a split or hole with putty, sticking back the split skin of an onion with the white of an egg (I was informed afterwards). Filling a crack in a carrot with mansion polish, I can assure you it didn’t half stink, sticking the calyx back on a tomato with a pin, painting over some leave scratch marks on cucumbers with a green felt pen.
Sadly there appears to be only a few young growers entering into the show world, and I trust that what I have mentioned above will not put them off but will rather make them want to play a clean game. There will be plenty of shows during ones lifetime for anyone to have many attempts at winning, but you only loose your credibility and reputation once, that will stay with you for ever. Of course winning is nice, but not at some of the costs that I have mentioned above, believe me there is nothing more satisfying in a competitive situation than to have won on your own merits.
I couldn’t possibly finish this article better than by quotes from Edwin Beckett’s book written in 1927 – “Every one who enters into competition should do his best to win honourably, however clever he may be, he must be prepared to meet with reverses as well as successes, and when beaten he must know how to lose. It is much more gentlemanly to accept a reverse with good grace, and go home determined to regain the laurels on a future occasion”.