Weeding out the tricks of the trade

Judges Terry, Tom and Jim.
Judges Terry, Tom and Jim.

WE are moving deeply into the flower show season, a period that some gardeners and home produce enthusiasts have planned for, over many months.

In the past it was often the event of the year in villages and townships throughout the country, bringing elements of competition and camaraderie together in a social setting.

Vegetable collections on the show bench.

Vegetable collections on the show bench.

Given the range of choices on offer, it is remarkable that shows still exist. But as the 140th Warkworth Village Show will hopefully prove this coming Saturday, rather than fold, some seem to go from strength to strength.

It is set within the gorgeous castle and grounds which is arguably attraction enough but as with most of our local summer exhibitions, entertainment has also been arranged for all the family. Trade stalls within the Keep are open from 10am, which is when judging in the marquee gets under way. The popular 2.5k fun run starts at 1pm, and all the entertainment begins at 1.30pm. This includes a band, dancers, dog show and several activities for children.

When you’re involved in the show scene as an organiser, exhibitor or judge, there is no escaping the nostalgia that surrounds every event. Some of our summer exhibitions have been in existence for over 100 years so reminiscence is part of the fabric.

Judges when they first meet up will mull over the growing season so far, the weather and effect it has had on flower, vegetable and fruit crops – generally in that order. Then they get down to the best exhibits seen on their travels.

There will be much sucking of teeth as the number and standard of entries at recently-visited shows are discussed, and the shortage of newcomers to exhibiting and organising. Before you know it, we’re (yes we, because I’m pleased to be one of them) discussing days of yore and real show characters who would try anything to disguise defects in their exhibits.

There were potatoes that smelled as if they’d just been in a fragrant bath rather than exuding that lovely earthy presence. The exhibitor had taken such trouble to match the soap colour to that of the potato skin, that it was barely perceptible to the eye – but the nose! Such deception, to disguise a hole, made by a slug, in an otherwise spotless potato!

Some exhibitors are prepared to try any remedy they’ve heard on the grapevine to increase their chance of winning. Reference the stand of beetroot, seemingly without blemish, of good size, perfectly uniform and with the darkest skin. The only off-putting feature was a faint aroma of inflammable liquid at close quarters.

The judge lifted one in each hand to compare and they shot out of their skins leaving his fingers coated in paraffin.

When questioned later, and told that he’d have won without the help of fuel, an embarrassed exhibitor explained. He’d been told that soaking them overnight in the substance made them beautifully dark throughout, so if the judge decided to cut one there would be no sign of pale rings.

Removing the evidence of celery bolting to seed and pushing wire up the centre of a flower stem are very old tricks. So too sticking the small entry ticket over fly damage on a carrot or scab on a potato.

But you must understand that these examples are simply an exhibitor’s way of testing whether the judge is up to the mark. Sometimes the organisers will even join in the fun.

One judge we recall would occasionally walk along the exhibits pointing out first, second and third without examining them. So six beautifully matching pods of peas were shelled then re-sealed with a substitute filling.

Better still were the three huge onions, totally uniform and an excellent shape. At first glance they stood out a mile as best stand in show. But all that glisters is not gold! The mischievous committee had inflated three balloons, covered them in papier mache and painted them the colour of ripe onions.

Conversely, another judge just loved handling big onions and examining their necks for soundness. If the slightest soft spot or weakness existed he’d work on it with his thumbs until the poor vegetable gave way. You can imagine the owner’s reaction.

By and large, judges simply want to see good produce and fair play. That is why it is so frustrating when a potentially winning stand has not been presented well or is not in accordance with the show schedule.

Typical of this is the bowl or vase of flowers with one or more marked or faded blooms that should have been removed. When two close entries are being examined to determine the winner, such small faults can make the difference.

Presentation is all when sweet peas, annual and perennial flowers are inspected. Yet we still find entries where they are bunched tightly together rather than given breathing space.

The situation could be resolved by simply easing them all slightly upwards and out, just as an extra bean or pea could be removed from a stand that should only have nine.

But there is nothing we can do about it. Exhibitors cast their eyes over the competition before judging commences to weigh up their chances. They too will have spotted any errors in a rival presentation.

Why not support your local show this weekend.

The two main attractions on Saturday in the Alnwick Area are Warkworth and Whittingham. Both are staged under traditional marquees and long may they remain so.