Take the plunge and delve into exhibiting

A prize-winning collection of vegetables. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
A prize-winning collection of vegetables. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Have you got a big marrow growing in the garden? Can you find two clean summer turnips of uniform size? Is there a potted plant that you’re proud of? Are there enough flowers in your mixed border to pick a bunch and make up a vase?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions you have the wherewithal to enter a local flower show, but statistics show that you probably won’t. Out of the millions of keen gardeners in the UK, less than two per cent compete at horticultural events.

People seem to enjoy visiting our so-called flower shows because there is so much more to see than the title suggests. Knitted and crocheted garments, paintings, photographs, cookery and preserves can be listed amongst the attractions.

Add the entertainment, livestock and trade stands at events such as Warkworth and Glendale shows and you have the ingredients for a good family day out.

We gardeners love comparing what’s on the exhibition benches with plants cultivated at home. “I’ve got better tomatoes than that in the greenhouse,” or “I could have been first in this class if I’d brought my cucumbers” are typical remarks overheard.

If only more gardeners were brave enough to give our local exhibitions a try.

There are sections for novices, entrants who have not won a first prize at a show before. Some organisations even have a trophy for the beginner who scores most points from different classes within the novice section.

It is not such a big step from this stage to fully-blown competitive exhibitor. I have seen it happen so often as a show secretary and judge.

Seasoned exhibitors are helpful in passing on tips and encouraging anyone showing enthusiasm. It is, after all, in their best interest. There’s no satisfaction in winning when the competition is limited.

Exhibiting demands commitment of time, energy and expense. Any prize money must be balanced against growing costs so this is not a route to instant riches. It is the kudos of winning that drives many exhibitors I meet. Without them, our local shows would struggle.

The Horticultural Show Handbook is an official Royal Horticultural Society guide to organising, judging and competing in a show. It is the tome of reference for anyone connected with showing, is regularly updated, and can be bought for £8 online.

It is a must-purchase, spiral-bound publication, with sound information for would-be exhibitors. It fits neatly into the pocket and can be used for a diversity of situations beyond the show scene – gardens competitions, allotments, etc.

This handbook always accompanies me on judging engagements, but only sees the light of day if someone needs guidance on a technicality. It offers pointers on judging, but cannot make decisions. That is down to the common sense of the judge.