By Lynn Snetsinger, Consulting Rosarian

Photos Copyright © Kitty Belendez

Carl Mahanay of Imperial Beach, CA is an excellent rose show exhibitor. He has been the mentor, directly or indirectly, of most of the top rose exhibitors in Southern California for several decades. He is also a very wise man. He coined a phrase you will hear repeated every time rose exhibitors start complaining that they don't have very many roses or don't think the ones they have are good enough to show. "All you can do is take the best you got and do the best you can with it."  This is excellent advice for a novice rose exhibitor. But how does a novice rose show exhibitor decide which roses are best for a show, and then decide what to do with them? Maybe some of the tips that follow will help.

Fresh, fresh, fresh -- those are the roses you want to cut for the show. Concentrate on the blooms. Don't worry about the stems and foliage at this point. Walk your rose garden and note the best rose blooms. Usually they will stand out in your mind. You want clean, clear color, good substance and no petal damage no matter what rose variety you cut. For blooms you might want to put in classes that call for hybrid tea exhibition form roses; you want high pointed centers and a triangular profile when viewed from the side. Your best bet for all classes will be rose blooms that have a circular circumference and petals that unfurl in some sort of symmetrical pattern when viewed from the top. If the rose will be shown fully open (as many floribundas, shrubs, and old garden roses will be), you want fresh stamens  not brown or black ones. 

Sprays should, ideally have at least 4 blooms arranged in a geometric pattern (triangle, circle, diamond, etc). Sprays with fewer blooms seldom win. Once you have decided which roses look best, you can think about cutting them. Roses that win usually need very little help from you.

Try to cut only roses you know by name and by class (hybrid tea, miniature, floribunda, polyantha, climber, shrub, OGR, etc). Sometimes other rose exhibitors can ID them for you, but often they can't. Cut a stem as long as possible (usually 14 to 20" will do the trick). If the rose bloom is excellent, but the stem is short or the foliage damaged, it still may be worth entering. I'll discuss where you can use it later. Only cut one rose stem at a time. If you cut a bunch of roses and hold them in your hand or cram them into a bucket, you run the risk of damaging them. Preparing one rose at a time will also help you keep them identified. Take each rose in the house and place it in fresh water, cutting the stem a little more as you do so. The water can be in the sink, a floral bucket, a milk carton. It doesn't matter. Just try not to let the roses rub against each other. Leave them to "hydrate" for 15 minutes to an hour. 

At this point you might want to put each rose in a vase and give the leaves a quick polish with a damp paper towel to remove dirt and give them a little shine. If you have a pair of deckle edge scissors, this is a good time to cut off damage on the leaves (it takes practice, do the best you can). Then place each rose in a container for transport. If you want to add floral preservative, aspirin, 7-up, or whatever to the water, do so before you place the roses in the transport container. I use milk cartons placed in a milk crate or box. You can use buckets, but, again, don't put too many roses into one container or they will damage each other. Don't try to take too many roses, just take the ones you think are best. Make a list or put a tag on the container so you still know the name and classification of the rose.

Try to get the rose show schedule ahead of time. Most can be downloaded from the rose society's website. This is part of the strategy for winning. Look at it carefully. Read the rules so you don't get unpleasant surprises at the rose show. Then try to see how you can use this rose show schedule to your advantage. Don't go into a rose show aiming to win Queen. Only one rose will win this honor, and the competition for it is fierce. And, believe me, if you have a rose worthy of being entered as Queen, somebody walking past it will tell you! Just aim to get to get blue ribbons to start with. Blue ribbons mean you're selecting good roses. If you get even one to the trophy table, you've done really well. 

Look at all of the rose show classes in the schedule. Try to figure out where you might have the best chance of winning. If you are a rose novice, by all means, enter novice classes. The Pacific Rose Society show has lots of places for climbers, so don't neglect them! If you have roses with a great bloom but short stems or damaged foliage, look at the classes for English boxes, floating bowls, and picture frames. Older varieties can often win in classes for classic modern roses or maybe you have some nice roses for the decorative class; remember this class is for roses that cannot, by breeding, exhibit exhibition hybrid tea form. Maybe you have 3 nice roses of the same variety or a collection of sprays, see where you can use them. The classes for hybrid tea sprays are often overlooked by serious rose exhibitors. The fully open HT class is a great place for your hybrid tea roses that have gone past exhibition form, but still have great color and fresh stamens. Many a novice rose show exhibitor have won the Most Fragrant Rose class. And don't forget the members' only classes! Make a tentative plan for where you will put your roses ahead of time.

Bring with you some material for wedging (making the rose stem stand straight in the vase) -- the schedule will tell you what is acceptable. Bring some paper towels, or whatever, to give the leaves another polish. Bring a ballpoint pen. 

Get to the rose show early so you have plenty of time to work. Once there, register, pick up some tags (address labels can speed up the tagging process), get your properties (vases, boxes, bowls, frames, etc) and fill them with water. Place and wedge the rose in the vase standing as straight and tall as you can. If you're not sure if your rose is too high or to low in the vase, ask someone! In fact, if you need any help or just an opinion, ask someone. We all want lots of competitors and lots of roses for the rose show. Don't be shy. Then, get your roses to the placement table before entries close. You don't want to be left standing outside the door with your best rose.

Once this is done, you can wait and pray with the rest of us that the judges liked the roses you brought. If, however, you find that you got something less that a blue ribbon, or no ribbon at all, please, don't be discouraged. Rose exhibiting is a constant learning process. The fun is in the learning as much as in the winning. Try to do better the next time. Ask a rose judge or a seasoned rose exhibitor to take a look at your rose entries and tell you what you could have done better.

If you really are too inhibited to try bringing roses, just help out at the rose shows. Being a clerk or placement person can sometimes teach you as much as exhibiting. You don't need any special training to do these jobs. We'll be sure you know what you're doing before you get started! No matter how you decide to contribute to the rose show, have fun!

© Copyright Lynn Snetsinger. All rights reserved. 

 Our Mailing Address
Pacific Rose Society, Post Office Box 1504, Sierra Madre, CA 91025

For questions about Pacific Rose Society, contact:
Chris Greenwood

Kitty Belendez

Photos Copyright © Kitty Belendez

Updated January 4, 2016

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