Can you imagine the above picture to be of a little girl meeting a couple on their way to flower show?
And with an innocent, childlike inquisitiveness inquires …
After reading old books and manuscript content describing the preparation involved in the guidelines and standards for Flower Judging Exhibitions by studying manuals and taking classes about the merits of prepping your Flower Display for the Judges and Audience Participates to critique, it is quite apparent why the qualities of the appearance of a flower; such as a dahlia, become important.
But to what extreme should a professional flower farmer or causal gardener go to stress on raising a flowerbed in search of perfection?
Does one take the time to walk among flowers and appreciate the colors, sizes, and aromas without the need to choose one flower over another for its strength in regards to winning prize money?
Does not Mother Nature takes its course and allow us the satisfaction of watching a flower grow and bloom in all of its magnificence simply for the pure joy in and of itself?
Some readers may exclaim – hold on wait a minute!
Does not Banner Flower Farm earn a living by selling cut flowers?
Does not Banner Farm care about the quality of their Flowers?
Of course the answer is YES!
At the same time there is a balance between quality control and the purpose of growing flowers.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing the flower is not the prize, but the glory and fame of possessing the most perfect perceived flower brings the most satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
Here is a chapter from a book written back in 1899 worth the read
because the author, Gertrude Jekyll, describes these faulty attributes with such conviction and clarity.
THE WORSHIP OF FALSE GODS
Several times during these notes I have spoken in a disparaging manner of the show-table; and I have not done so lightly, but with all the care and thought and power of observation that my limited capacity is worth; and, broadly, I have come to this: that shows, such as those at the fortnightly meetings of the Royal Horticultural Society, and their more important one in the early summer, whose object is to bring together beautiful flowers of all kinds, to a place where they may be seen, are of the utmost value; and that any shows anywhere for a like purpose, and especially where there are no money prizes, are also sure to be helpful. And the test question I put to myself at any show is this, Does this really help the best interests of horticulture? And as far as I can see that it does this, I think the show right and helpful; and whenever it does not, I think it harmful and misleading.
The love of gardening has so greatly grown and spread within the last few years, that the need of really good and beautiful garden flowers is already far in advance of the demand for the so-called “florists” flowers, by which I mean those that find favour in the exclusive shows of Societies for the growing and exhibition of such flowers as Tulips, Carnations, Dahlias, and Chrysanthemums. In support of this I should like to know what proportion of demand there is, in Dahlias, for instance, between the show kinds, whose aim and object is the show-table, and the decorative kinds, that are indisputably better for garden use. Looking at the catalogue of a leading Dahlia nursery, I find that the decorative kinds fill ten pages, while the show kinds, including Pompones, fill only three. Is not this some indication of what is wanted in gardens?
I am of opinion that the show-table is unworthily used when its object is to be an end in itself, and that it should be only a means to a better end, and that when it exhibits what has become merely a “fancy,” it loses sight of its honourable position as a trustworthy exponent of horticulture, and has degenerated to a baser use. When, as in Chrysanthemum shows, the flowers on the board are of no use anywhere but on that board, and for the purpose of gaining a money prize, I hold that the show-table has a debased aim, and a debasing influence. Beauty, in all the best sense, is put aside in favour of set rules and measurements, and the production of a thing that is of no use or value; and individuals of a race of plants capable of producing the highest and most delightful forms of beauty, and of brightening our homes, and even gardens, during the dim days of early winter, are teased and tortured and fatted and bloated into ugly and useless monstrosities for no purpose but to gain money. And when private gardeners go to these shows and see how the prizes are awarded, and how all the glory is accorded to the first-prize bloated monster, can we wonder that the effect on their minds is confusing, if not absolutely harmful?
Shows of Carnations and Pansies, where the older rules prevail, are equally misleading, where the single flowers are arrayed in a flat circle of paper. As with the Chrysanthemum, every sort of trickery is allowed in arranging the petals of the Carnation blooms: petals are pulled out or stuck in, and they are twisted about, and groomed and combed, and manipulated with special tools—”dressed,” as the show-word has it—dressed so elaborately that the dressing only stops short of applying actual paint and perfumery. Already in the case of Carnations a better influence is being felt, and at the London shows there are now classes for border Carnations set up in long-stalked bunches just as they grow. It is only like this that their value as outdoor plants can be tested; for many of the show sorts have miserably weak stalks, and a very poor, lanky habit of growth.
Then the poor Pansies have single blooms laid flat on white papers, and are only approved if they will lie quite flat and show an outline of a perfect circle. All that is most beautiful in a Pansy, the wing-like curves, the waved or slightly fluted radiations, the scarcely perceptible undulation of surface that displays to perfection the admirable delicacy of velvety texture; all the little tender tricks and ways that make the Pansy one of the best-loved of garden flowers; all this is overlooked, and not only passively overlooked, but overtly contemned. The show-pansy judge appears to have no eye, or brain, or heart, but to have in their place a pair of compasses with which to describe a circle! All idea of garden delight seems to be excluded, as this kind of judging appeals to no recognition of beauty for beauty’s sake, but to hard systems of measurement and rigid arrangement and computation that one would think more applicable to astronomy or geometry than to any matter relating to horticulture.
I do most strongly urge that beauty of the highest class should be the aim, and not anything of the nature of fashion or “fancy,” and that every effort should be made towards the raising rather than the lowering of the standard of taste.
The Societies which exist throughout the country are well organised; many have existed for a great number of years; they are the local sources of horticultural education, to which large circles of people naturally look for guidance; and though they produce—and especially the Rose shows—quantities of beautiful things, it cannot but be perceived by all who have had the benefit of some refinement of education, that in very many cases they either deliberately teach, or at any rate allow to be seen with their sanction, what cannot fail to be debasing to public taste.
I will just take two examples to show how obvious methods of leading taste are not only overlooked, but even perverted; for it is not only in the individual blooms that much of the show-teaching is unworthy, but also in the training of the plants; so that a plant that by nature has some beauty of form, is not encouraged or even allowed to develop that beauty, but is trained into some shape that is not only foreign to its own nature, but is absolutely ugly and ungraceful, and entirely stupid. The natural habit of the Chrysanthemum is to grow in the form of several upright stems. They spring up sheaf-wise, straight upright for a time, and only bending a little outwards above, to give room for the branching heads of bloom. The stems are rather stiff, because they are half woody at the base. In the case of pot-plants it would seem right only so far to stake or train them as to give the necessary support by a few sticks set a little outwards at the top, so that each stem may lean a little over, after the manner of a Bamboo, when their clustered heads of flower would be given enough room, and be seen to the greatest advantage.
But at shows, the triumph of the training art seems to be to drag the poor thing round and round over an internal scaffolding of sticks, with an infinite number of ties and cross-braces, so that it makes a sort of shapeless ball, and to arrange the flowers so that they are equally spotted all over it, by tying back some almost to snapping-point, and by dragging forward others to the verge of dislocation. I have never seen anything so ugly in the way of potted plants as a certain kind of Chrysanthemum that has incurved flowers of a heavy sort of dull leaden-looking red-purple colour trained in this manner. Such a sight gives me a feeling of shame, not unmixed with wrathful indignation. I ask myself, What is it for? and I get no answer. I ask a practical gardener what it is for, and he says, “Oh, it is one of the ways they are trained for shows.” I ask him, Does he think it pretty, or is it any use? and he says, “Well, they think it makes a nice variety;” and when I press him further, and say I consider it a very nasty variety, and does he think nasty varieties are better than none, the question is beyond him, and he smiles vaguely and edges away, evidently thinking my conversation perplexing, and my company undesirable. I look again at the unhappy plant, and see its poor leaves fat with an unwholesome obesity, and seeming to say, We were really a good bit mildewed, but have been doctored up for the show by being crammed and stuffed with artificial aliment!
My second example is that of Azalea indica. What is prettier in a room than one of these in its little tree form, a true tree, with tiny trunk and wide-spreading branches, and its absurdly large and lovely flowers? Surely it is the most perfect room ornament that we can have in tree shape in a moderate-sized pot; and where else can one see a tree loaded with lovely bloom whose individual flowers have a diameter equal to five times that of the trunk?
But the show decrees that all this is wrong, and that the tiny, brittle branches must be trained stiffly round till the shape of the plant shows as a sort of cylinder. Again I ask myself, What is this for? What does it teach? Can it be really to teach with deliberate intention that instead of displaying its natural and graceful tree form it should aim at a more desirable kind of beauty, such as that of the chimney-pot or drain-pipe, and that this is so important that it is right and laudable to devote to it much time and delicate workmanship?
I cannot but think, as well as hope, that the strong influences for good that are now being brought to bear on all departments of gardening may reach this class of show, for there are already more hopeful signs in the admission of classes for groups arranged for decoration.
The prize-show system no doubt creates its own evils, because the judges, and those who frame the schedules, have been in most cases men who have a knowledge of flowers, but who are not people of cultivated taste, and in deciding what points are to constitute the merits of a flower they have to take such qualities as are within the clearest understanding of people of average intelligence and average education—such, for instance, as size that can be measured symmetry that can be easily estimated, thickness of petal that can be felt, and such qualities of colour as appeal most strongly to the uneducated eye; so that a flower may possess features or qualities that endow it with the highest beauty, but that exclude it, because the hard and narrow limits of the show-laws provide no means of dealing with it. It is, therefore, thrown out, not because they have any fault to find with it, but because it does not concern them; and the ordinary gardener, to whose practice it might be of the highest value, accepting the verdict of the show-judge as an infallible guide, also treats it with contempt and neglect.
Now, all this would not so much matter if it did not delude those whose taste is not sufficiently educated to enable them to form an opinion of their own in accordance with the best and truest standards of beauty; for I venture to repeat that what we have to look for for the benefit of our gardens, and for our own bettering and increase of happiness in those gardens, are things that are beautiful, rather than things that are round, or straight, or thick, still less than for those that are new, or curious, or astonishing. For all these false gods are among us, and many are they who are willing to worship.