Advice for Horticultural Exhibitors

Peter Collett
Photo by Louise Adams

Peter Collett has had a passion for fruit since war time summers in Norfolk (picking plums) and early family life (growing as many kinds of fruits as possible in a small garden). This finally developed into a comprehensive collection of some 35 kinds of every possible species of fruit, including all soft and exotic kinds, but especially trained apples, pears and cherries. Success at flower shows, resulting in major awards at RHS Shows and the Selborne Fruit Trophy locally, accompanied a forty year career as a show judge – from local village to RHS Westminster Shows. Peter made contributions to the Fruit Section in two earlier editions of the RHS Show Handbook (the ‘bible’ at all flower shows, including Mundham). The desire to pass on this pomaceous passion, resulted in tutored courses for tree wardens, RHS courses for Sparsholt College, and numerous talks across the whole of Southern England advising on “Fruit for the Small Garden”, plus advising on major orchard projects, such as that at Petworth House, for Lady Egremont. The crowning reward to all this, from many, many Apple Days nationwide, remains the many opportunities to offer the identities of previously unknown varieties of apples growing in peoples gardens.

Sadly (for Mundham) he has decided to retire from judging this year, having judged at the Mundham and District Gala and Flower Show since 1999, but has put together this advice and many tips, to help everyone to make even more of their exhibits.


Select a topic

(Click on photos to see the complete picture. Please note that the number of items in the photos may differ from the number required in the Mundham and District Gala – the photographs rather demonstrate the quality and display of exhibits.)


General

Unless otherwise stated, exhibits in Divisions A, B, C and D must consist of one variety / cultivar. Resist the temptation to enhance a vegetable or fruit exhibit with any foliage whatever. It could be diseased or contain pests.

Kinds of exhibits

Flowers. Roses. Large Flowered.
Fruit. Apples. Dessert.
Vegetables. Potatoes.

Varieties / Cultivars

Roses. Large Flowered. Peace. Alec’s Red.
Apples. Dessert. Discovery. Cox’s Orange Pippin.
Potatoes. Charlotte. Kestrel.

All entries, using a variety of combinations, are pointed using the following criteria:

  • Condition
  • Uniformity
  • Size
  • Shape
  • Colour

Always try to name kinds / cultivars (with a simple capital letters label), where possible.
This provides very useful information for visitors, but could be telling in close competition.

‘Dish’
This is the show schedule term used to denote the specified number(s) of a fruit or vegetable making up an entry, normally using only one cultivar / variety.

Always, before leaving, check your entries to ensure each contains the correct number of items, as required in the schedule.

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Division A : Fruit Classes

These are the criteria affecting the kinds of fruit likely to be on display at the Mundham and District Gala and Flower Show.

Ripeness

Gooseberries may be shown ripe or unripe. All others should be shown ripe. However, avoid over-ripeness.

Picking

Pick as near to show time as possible. Handle with care to avoid damaging. Never pick in wet / damp conditions. (In extreme conditions, whole woody fruited stems / canes can be cut with fruit on and placed in deep water to dry in a cool, shady place.)

Always cut fruits from the parent plant. Currants on whole strigs / bunches. Gooseberries, strawberries, and raspberries with stalks. Blueberries with no stalk. (Avoid damage to the ‘bloom’ or the waxy surface coating). Lay fruits separately in flat trays until required. Keep cool.

Selection

Fruits should be fresh, uniform, just ripe, free from blemish. Good examples of their kind and cultivar.

Presentation

All fruit is shown on plates. Neat, attractive spacing. Berries best in lines.Currants radiating from centre. Blueberries round edge.

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Division B : Vegetable Classes

General requirements

Those marked P are the only vegetable exhibits to be shown on a plate.

Condition

All should be very carefully cleaned, fresh, tender and as free of coarseness and blemishes as possible.

Uniformity

All specimens in an entry should be as alike in every aspect as denoted. Where one specimen is required, points are adjusted.

Size

More skill is required to produce larger specimens, of good quality, and are therefore preferred. Not overlarge, though.

Colour

This should be fresh, mature, and true to the cultivar shown.

Vegetables as listed

P Potatoes

Medium size tubers. 200 – 250 grams each. Dig with care, two days before show. Leave covered for a day before careful cleaning with water and soft cloth. Shapely, clean, whole clear skins, shallow eyes. Show round plate, eyes outward.

Carrots

Fresh roots of good colour and shape, with intact root. Skin clear and bright. Carefully remove sideshoot growth.  Foliage trimmed as advised. Roots forward.

Beetroot

Spherical. Approx. tennis ball size. Single taproot, smooth skin of uniform colour. Remove small sideshoot growth . Foliage trimmed as advised. Roots forward.

Lettuce

Lift with roots. Keep leaf turgid. Wash roots clean. Remove damaged outer leaf. Show with hearts forward.

Herbs

Fresh, healthy, clean, blemish free foliage. Cut and immerse stalks in water, day before show. “In flower” stems, if used, should have good healthy foliage.

Onions

Uniform, as well-ripened as possible for July, with narrow necks, Don’t overskin. Trim tops and tie neatly. Trim roots to the base. Lay bulbs forward or stand on base.

Beans, Runner and French

Fresh straight young pods of even equal length. Cut from vine, ensure each has portion of stalk. Cut, if necessary, over a period of time to provide equal length collection. Keep cool and moist. Shown in line, stalks at the top.

Salad / Spring Onions

Fresh tender leaf. White unswollen bases with clean intact roots. Roots forward.

P Pickling Shallots

30 mm max. width. Bulbs well dried, unstained colour and ripe. Root removed. Tops cut and tied off with raffia. Show upright on shallow dish on dry sand.

Sugarsnap Peas

Fresh slim pods (small peas), of good colour, even length, waxy bloom intact. Shown in line. Stalks at the top.

Peas

Fresh, even length, well-filled. Try to retain waxy bloom coating. Internal damage checked by judge. Check in advance using strong back lighting. Stalks at the top.

Broad Beans

Fresh well-filled pods of even size. One usually opened to check. Clear unblemished skins. Tender young beans of good size. Stalks at the top.

Spinach or Chard

Large, very fresh, thick stems, undamaged well-coloured leaves. Cut and immerse stems in water, day before show. Cut ends to the front.

Cucumbers

Evenly matched barrels and length, of good fresh green colour, with a short handle. Attached flowers are no longer required. Flower end to front.

P Tomatoes

All types. Well shaped and coloured, blemish free, ripe but firm. Fresh green calyxes. Size appropriate to cultivar and class. Arrange round dish.

Radishes

Fresh, clean, firm, young, even, good colour. Foliage pest free. Roots to front.

Garlic

Dried and totally ripened. Shown as complete bulbs. Reduce stem to approx. 25 mm. Remove roots. Stand on bulb base .

Rhubarb

Stalks fresh, straight, long, tender. Break off at base. Cut leaf to approx. 75 mm. Stem broken to test for acidity and stringiness. Show in line, base to front.

Courgettes

Young, tender, shapely and uniform fruits. Approx. 150 mm in length, 25 – 35 mm diameter. Attached flowers are no longer required. Flower end forward.

Cabbages

Solid heads of equal size. Good waxy leaf bloom. Reject split or pest ridden specimens. Remove damaged outer leaves. Retain 75 mm of stalk. Show with stalks to the rear.

Collections

Where appropriate, and possible, same kinds of vegetables across the entries are assessed / pointed one with another. Good presentation is important.

Trug or Basket

Equal importance is shown towards presentation, quality and variety of contents. Display contents without piling them one upon another.

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Flowers Classes

All cut flower material requires ‘conditioning’, i.e. treatment, in advance of the show.

Cut for a show a day in advance, early morning or evening, when conditions are cool.

Flower stalks should be cut as long as possible. Make a slanting cut at the end of each stalk to assist with water uptake.

Plunge stems into deep water containers, removing some lower leaf. Choose a cool, shaded overnight position before taking to show venue.

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Division C : Roses

Rose Large flowered

Cut well in advance (a day or so). A slanted cut, with some lower stem crushing, will assist with water uptake. Choose blooms half to three quarters open, for preference. Petals symmetrical within a circular outline. Avoid any petal damage, if possible. Size as specified for that cultivar.

Mixed Bowl of Roses

Ensure each bloom has sufficient space, but try to have no gaps, in order to produce complete overall floral effect.

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Division D : Flowers

Lilies

Stems, each with as many blooms as possible. Choose young, long stems where the pollen has not yet dropped onto the petals beneath.

Fuchsia florets

Cut well (at least 24 hours) before the show. Allow to take up water. Ensure all flower parts are turgid, not limp, especially the stigmas.

Sweet Peas

Strong fresh spikes, long stems, well-spaced blooms, of good colour, facing forward. Four per stem if possible. Arrange in a fan.

Nasturtiums

Choose fresh young stems with complete flowers. Avoid any with podded seed.

Carnations or Pinks

Avoid stems with a split calyx. Fresh stems, petals symmetrical and circular in outline. (Note: cvr ‘Mrs Sinkins’ has naturally occurring acceptable split calyxes.)

Hydrangeas

Large complete full heads with fresh flowers / sepals, of uniform colour.

All pot plants : Flowering, Foliage, Cacti or Succulent

Wherever grown in the home, ensure each pot is turned regularly towards light source to ensure all round balanced growth. Water and feed regularly where required. Ensure the container is clean. Examine the base for undesirable residents, especially slugs. Check and clean the soil surface. Remove any weed or dead material.

Hanging Baskets

Advice will be very similar to that for pot plants. All round, all-over effect (basket included) is most desirable. A watering regime can be very critical.

Compiled August 2017 for exhibitors at Mundham and District Gala and Flower Show by Peter Collett (Horticutural Show Judge : 1975 – 2017)