Keeping a Full Bank of 
Exhibition Roses
Exhibition Roses for Southern California Exhibitors

By Kitty Belendez, Master Rosarian

In Southern California, there are at least a dozen rose shows within a one hundred mile radius throughout the year. Sometimes there are even two competing rose shows on the same weekend. So, serious exhibitors in our area can pick and choose at which rose shows they wish to exhibit, often exhibiting every weekend during the peak bloom cycles of mid-April to mid-June in the spring, and end of September to mid-November in the fall. Additionally, some years there may be a district or national rose show within driving distance at which the exhibitor might want to exhibit. In order to do this, an exhibitor must grow roses -- lots of roses. But, not just any rose -- they must be bankers.

When I first began rose exhibiting, I heard exhibitors talking about "bankers." I really didn't understand what that meant, and to be honest, even though other exhibitors tried to explain it to me, it took many years of growing roses and exhibiting, through trial and error, to finally figure it out. I would like to share with you what I have learned about what a banker is and isn't,  keeping a full rose bank, what a banker means to me, and why I grow the types of roses and varieties that I do today.

When I began to develop what I thought were my stable of rose bankers, I collected all the AARS roses, the roses highly rated in the "ARS Handbook for Selecting Roses," roses that had won the James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award, and the top exhibition roses listed in the Rose Exhibitors'  Quarterly. I quickly learned that most of those roses were not good exhibition bankers for "MY" garden. In fact, they were all the wrong roses. Queen Elizabeth, King's Ransom, and Snowfire never won any trophies for me, and I soon realized that they never would. Perfume Delight, Tiffany, Fragrant Cloud, and Mister Lincoln would most likely win the Most Fragrant Award, but would probably never win Queen.

I also learned that my favorite roses were not my bankers. A banker is not grown for sentimental reasons. A banker is a rose that grows well for me, and can be counted on to get on the trophy table consistently. It produces lots of good exhibition quality blooms at the right time, and it usually looks good in collections with other roses. You will come to love your bankers, as did I, because they are usually the best and most beautiful roses that grow in our gardens, and they will even win us some trophies. A banker is a rose that the judges like.

Before you can decide which roses to grow for exhibition, you must develop a strategy. Which roses do you like to grow and exhibit the best: hybrid teas, floribundas, miniatures, shrubs, old garden roses, or whatever? How many roses are you able to properly care for in your garden? How many rose shows will you be exhibiting at, and how far are you willing to travel? Do you plan on competing on the district and national level? Do you like the challenge or collection classes? Would you prefer only to go for the Queen? Whatever your strategy is today, it is certain to change tomorrow. Mine did. I like to exhibit all types of roses, therefore I must grow all types. I also love to exhibit in the challenge classes and collections. I am particularly fond of exhibiting at the district and national level, which offer a wide variety of challenge classes for all types of roses. The challenge classes at the local shows give me the opportunity to hone my skills in preparation for the national and district challenge classes.

The first thing you must learn after developing your strategy is that it will usually take three years to develop a good rose into a banker. It must be grown and evaluated in your own garden. It must be tested under refrigeration. Does it blow fast or hold its form? You can only learn this by testing and evaluating. This takes patience. Many of the roses you grow and evaluate will never become your bankers. But, you won't know this until you experiment.

There are many regional differences in bankers. The hybrid tea rose Uncle Joe is rarely seen on the trophy table in Southern California. Virtually nobody grows Tiffany Lynn here. Judges in our area don't like Bride's Dream. But, those roses are considered bankers in other areas of the country. I finally gave up two of my three Bride's Dream this year in favor of more Gemini (a potential banker).  Crystalline used to be at the top of the exhibition chart in Southern California. But, I could not grow Crystalline no matter how hard I tried. On the other hand, St. Patrick is my number one banker, having won over 100 trophies for me since its introduction in 1996, including Queen, Court of Honor, English Box, Bouquets of 3, 6 and 12, Cycle of Bloom, Artist's Palette, Rose in a Picture Frame,  Rose in a Bowl, District AARS, District Herb Swim, and even the Judge's Entry. 

Once you discover which roses are your bankers, you need to grow multiples. For example, I grow six plants of St. Patrick, 4 plants of Gemini, 4 plants of Ring of Fire, and 3 plants of Veterans' Honor. In the miniatures, I grow 6 plants of Miss Flippins, 10 plants of Fairhope, 6 plants of Behold, and so on.

Some roses perform their best in either spring or fall, and sometimes in all seasons. For me, St. Patrick is dependable year round. Moonstone and Louise Estes are only good in the summer or fall when the weather is warmer; in the cool spring their blooms are ugly. Most floribundas and old garden roses are best in spring, and really don't bloom much in the fall. Miniatures seem to bloom all the time, especially since I grow 150 plants.

If you will be exhibiting at many rose shows, you will want to make sure to have blooms for every show. One way to do that is to diversify in the types (or class) of roses you grow. For example, hybrid teas are usually the first class of rose to bloom in the spring. Next come the miniatures, then the shrubs, old garden roses, and finally the floribundas. Although the single-petalled floribundas usually bloom early, the more heavily-petalled floribundas will bloom several weeks later. That's why I grow multiple bankers and all types of roses -- so that I will always have something in bloom for a rose show.

Although I currently grow about 350 rose plants, and about 170 varieties, I consider very few of them to be my true bankers. These are the roses that consistently win trophies for me on the local, district, and national level:

Hybrid Teas: St. Patrick (the BEST HT for me), Black MagicMoonstone (fall only), Hot PrincessGeminiVeterans' Honor, Let Freedom Ring, Miss Kitty, Big Time, Cajun Moon 
Floribundas: Sexy RexyPlayboyLavaglut, Playgirl, Fabulous!
Miniatures: BeholdIrresistible, Fairhope, Glowing Amber, The Lighthouse Arcanum
Minifloras:  Dr. John DickmanWhirlaway, Butter Cream, Show Stopper
Shrubs: The Squire, PerditaAbraham DarbyFair Bianca, Mary RoseGolden Celebration
Old Garden Roses: Baronne PrevostYolande d'AragonRose de Rescht, Francis Dubreuil, Green Rose (great as filler in OGR bouquets)
Polyanthas:  VerdunWhite PetLullabyWing Ding

Hybrid Teas: Ring of Fire, Randy Scott, Mr Caleb
Floribundas: Tickled Pink, Fired Up, Sparkle & Shine 
Miniatures: Alysheba
Minifloras: Tammy Clemons, Shawn Sease, Abby's Angel 
Shrubs: Heathcliff

Because tastes change, and new and better roses are being introduced all the time, you need to continually have a few potential bankers growing under evaluation to invest in the future. You need to do your homework. Ask around.  Read the "Horizon Roses" report, and even gamble on a few unknowns. My first St. Patrick I won in a raffle the year before its introduction. It won Queen for me at its first rose show.

Reprinted from"Rose Exhibitors' Forum," Robert B. Martin, Jr., Editor. (Updated)


© Copyright Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.

Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez

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Updated June 11, 2023
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