How to win at the summer show…

Or, indeed, any show. We can’t promise anything, mind!

After the judging of our Summer Show was complete, all the stewards took some time to talk to the judges they’d been accompanying and ask for some hints, tips and comments. The main comment was how wonderful everything looked, followed up very promptly by surprise that we had managed such a good show, particularly of vegetables, in such a difficult season.

veg display

It was impressive, but there are still some tips that can help. They apply to all of us, but they’re really useful for anyone who has never entered anything before. One thing, which was particularly relevant this year, was that it is always worth entering. Even if you think your courgettes are a bit poor, everyone else’s may be equally poor – or maybe worse. Give it a go anyway. Right, now for the hints and tips.

(And all the photos here are to show the fun of the show, not to illustrate any problems, incidentally.)

The major tip, from all the judges, and for all entrants whether they’d been doing it for years or not, was this: read the schedule.

Almost every class included something which didn’t match the schedule’s specification, whether that was presenting seven tomatoes instead of six, having a flower arrangement that was too big, a courgette that was too small, baking which had involved more than the two eggs specified or too big a tin, or a jar of preserves without a date on the label. And it’s a maximum of two entries per class, as well – it’s a popular show, so we need to make room for everyone to have a go if they wish.

It’s a shame when good things can’t be judged because they don’t conform to the schedule. So…

Check and double check. If you’re entering a flower arrangement like this wonderful one,

show 2

does it measure what it should, both height and width? And you should include the stand or plate in your measurements, too; they apply to the whole thing, not just the flowers and foliage. The stewards will go out of their way to help, but sometimes the measurements are just too far out.

The next universal point was display.

This doesn’t just apply to the flower arrangers, or indeed to the flowers in general. But if you are entering a vase of flowers or even herbs, like those in the ‘mixed flowers in a jam jar’ class (schedule says ‘max 2 lb jar, maximum of 15 stems’, note), or these ‘six named herbs in a 1 lb jam jar’ (note the ‘named’),

named herbs

don’t just make sure what you enter conforms to the schedule, but make sure it looks good too. A clear arrangement in which the individual items can be seen is better than a cluttered one. Tip? Use oasis or kitchen roll in the vase, or sellotape the neck of the vase in a grid to hold the stems in place.

(And as a health and safety tip, please make sure your vase is stable. This may mean weighting it, if necessary, with marbles or glass beads. An overturned vase and a judge with wet trousers does not a prizewinner make… oh, and please try and remove any additional wildlife, whether that’s caterpillars on geraniums or earwigs in dahlias. Unlike one driven-to-desperation garden club in North Yorkshire, we do not have a class for slugs.)

Ahem. Next point: uniformity.

This doesn’t just apply to vegetables, but to any class where you enter a multiple of something, whether that’s dahlias, bread rolls or shallots. Try and make your selected specimens match as closely as possible.

show 4

The middle ones at the back won (they were beautiful shallots, but they also match beautifully). Second was the plate to the left of the winner, and third was the one at the right.

This also leads on to another important point: displaying vegetables.

It’s not always obvious to the novice, but there are some things which don’t take long and which make a lot of difference when entering the vegetable classes:

  • Wash your vegetables carefully and present them as cleanly as possible – check out those potatoes at the top of the first photo in this post. There should not be any visible soil on your entries.
  • Trim roots of onions and shallots neatly; use stands for onions if appropriate, and bind the tops. Display shallots on sand.
  • Leave the flowers on courgettes; if that’s not possible, be very careful when trimming.
  • Put a damp kitchen towel over your vegetables; the steward will remove them before judging and it keep them fresh.
  • Don’t forget to check underneath marrows – they can often be rather scarred.
  • Display is really essential with soft fruit – it can make all the difference.
  • And if you’re entering something like an artichoke, cut a long enough stalk to make it obvious it didn’t come from Waitrose and display it well, standing up in this case:

show 5

Finally, remember to make sure your card is with your exhibit – the stewards can do a certain amount of guesswork and/or trying to recall who put what where, but there’s always something which is absolutely beautiful but which lacks its label. It can’t win if we don’t know who grew or arranged or baked or bottled or cooked whatever it is. And give yourself plenty of time.

That was ‘finally’? No, finally, finally: remember to stick to the schedule!

With huge thanks to all our judges, stewards and organisers – and roll on next year.

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