How to Produce a Successful Rose Show
With Advance Planning and Help From Volunteers

By Kitty Belendez
Master Rosarian

I have been involved in producing local society rose shows for about 25 years and over 100 rose shows. During that time, I have served in various capacities including rose show exhibitor, clerk, rose judge, rose show schedule writer, president, rose show chairman and general worker bee. In all that time, we never really had a reference manual from which to work; we usually just had to wing it, or learn from more experienced workers. The information was just "passed along" verbally. 

I've heard that some rose societies have developed a rose show manual, while others have tried to produce a book of "job descriptions" which can indeed be helpful. But what about new societies who want to produce a rose show the very first time, or even established societies who suddenly find themselves with all new leadership? Or, when key members all flock to a national out-of-town American Rose Society convention on the same date as the local society rose show?

So, I decided it was time to write down my thoughts and experiences over the last 20 years. I want to share with you what I have learned, and what I feel makes a successful rose show. Contrary to its title, this article is not meant to be an in-depth "how-to" nor a complete list of "job descriptions," but rather it is an overview and sharing of ideas and experiences. These are my suggestions for producing a successful rose show.

Purpose and Goals of the Rose Show
A rose society must know the main purpose of putting on the rose show. Why do it? In my opinion, the main purpose of producing a rose show is to promote the rose. We also want to educate the public about growing roses, and we want to attract new rose society members. The financial goal should be to break even, although making a small profit would be a bonus, and even going slightly into the red might be acceptable if the membership agrees to it ahead of time.

A Rose Show Needs Advance Planning
A carefully choreographed rose show can indeed break even, and in fact make a small profit. The Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, which I have had the pleasure of being involved with for quite some time, has small profits on their rose shows. 

There are many elements which make up a successful rose show: show date, planning, show staff, location, budget, quality trophies, publicity, the rose show schedule, rose exhibitors, roses and judges, to name but a few. It is most crucial to begin planning your rose show one year in advance.

The Rose Show Budget
But, first the rose society must have the funds to produce the rose show. If funds are not readily available, then the society needs to have a fund raiser. 

A rose show can easily cost $1,000 or more depending on how fancy you want to get. Some of the expenses to be incurred are trophies, supplies (ribbons, entry tags), judges' luncheon, room rental, tables and table covers, properties (vases), schedule printing, plants and liability insurance.

More About Fund Raisers
The idea behind fund raisers is to make them very profitable with very little effort. Our local society annual fund raiser is a combination rose auction and potluck BBQ held during the summer in the beautiful garden of one of our members. The members have a good time and get the chance to bid on some excellent roses. We usually offer at least 100 plants and net over $2,000 on this annual event. Many of the roses are donated by commercial growers, or some of our members, while other roses are specially purchased for the event.

We've had garden parties, rose auctions and plant sales that have all been highly successful and very profitable. We have also solicited trophy sponsors, both commercial and from members. However, we have chosen to never charge a fee for garden tours because we feel the tours are one of the bonuses of being a member, and it is also a method of attracting new members. Some societies charge an entrance fee to view the rose show, which is not always feasible, especially if the show is held in a mall. I prefer not charging entrance fees, as I feel there are other ways to finance the rose show, and the society should not make a huge profit.

Another form of fund raising is selling cut roses and miniature rose plants at the show. We ask the rose exhibitors and rose society members to donate their leftover cut roses to our society, and then we sell them to the public for $1 per stem for the larger roses, the minis 50 cents each. 

A very popular sales item is miniature rose blooms in plastic lapel pin vases. We used to buy the lapel pin vases from Kimbrew-Walter in Texas for about 35 cents, and then resell them (each containing one mini bloom) to the public for $1 each. Even the teenagers love these pin-on, mini blooms in a vase. We display the mini lapel pin vases on a Styrofoam easel that has been spray painted black. But I do not know where these lapel pins can now be purchased.

We also buy plastic champagne glasses and fill them with six mini blooms and sell them for $2. The champagne glasses can be purchased from volume outlets such as Smart & Final or Costco.

Quart or half-gallon cardboard milk cartons can be wrapped with colorful paper and then filled with cut roses. These can be sold for $5 depending on the size of the bouquet. You could also sell the "exhibition" roses after the show is over. We sell a stem for $1, and they go very fast. 

Miniature roses in 2-inch or 4-inch pots can be your biggest sales item. We usually sell at least 100 plants for each day of the show. You used to buy the mini plants at wholesale price from some of of the catalog suppliers, and then resell the plants to the public. For best results, order your plants weeks in advance for arrival "in bud and bloom" a few days before the show.

Rose Show Committee
The President of the rose society heads the Rose Show Executive Committee. The President is responsible for the rose society and should therefore oversee the entire rose show. The President usually appoints the Rose Show Chair, or sometimes it is an elected position, and these two persons should work in tandem. I see this as the ideal working relationship. 

The Rose Show Chair then appoints various committee chairs, with advice from the President. Some of the committees may include: Judges, Trophies, Schedule, Hospitality, Sales, Publicity, Finance and Education. Each committee chair may recruit assistants to help them. This will make their jobs easier.

Show Chairs should never go off in their own direction and "do their own thing," but should report to the President on a regular basis. 

The Committee Chairs should meet a number of times throughout the year prior to the rose show. The watchwords for the Committee Chairs are "teamwork," "delegation" and "cooperation." After all, we are volunteers and are not paid employees. We hope the experience will be enjoyable and educational.

Staff Assignment Schedule
Prepare a staff assignment schedule detailing who is to do what and when. It's amazing how organized a show can be when everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do and when they are to do it.

One of the major considerations of the rose show is where to hold it. This is usually not an easy task. Ideally, we hope to secure a venue without cost to the society. This must be done a year in advance. I have exhibited at rose shows that were held in all types of locations: malls, churches, parks, fire stations, community centers, public gardens, arboretums, retail nurseries and even at a cemetery. There are pros and cons to each type of location. 

You will probably attract your target audience at the public gardens, arboretums, and nurseries. The malls might attract a bigger audience but they will not necessarily be your target. You might get a lot of teenagers at the malls. Churches, fire stations and cemeteries are the least desirable locations simply because you might attract very few visitors.

Indoor venues are preferable over outdoor locations because of unknown and uncontrollable weather conditions and lighting situations. Heaven forbid it should rain on your outdoor show, or gale force winds should suddenly appear.

In searching for a location to hold your rose show, try to speak with the managers of the prospective sites. Give them a bouquet of roses as a gesture of goodwill. It gets them in the mood. Approach them with the view that you will attract business for them in exchange for letting you hold your rose show there (at no charge, of course). Show them photos of other rose shows so they can visualize what they can expect. Ask them up front if they will furnish the tables and table covers. Some of the more upscale locations have budgets for these special events, while other locations will already have an inventory of tables and chairs available for your use. Remember to tell them that your rose society is a non-profit, educational organization. Avoid having to pay for the location or equipment unless absolutely necessary. It can be very costly.

Before you make your final selection of the venue for your rose show, there are other considerations to think about. Is air conditioning necessary and available? Roses must be kept cool, otherwise they will wilt and look terrible to the public. What is the lighting situation? The judges need sufficient light to make proper decisions. Is there enough space for your show? Nothing is worse than having the roses crammed together so tight that it is difficult to view them. Is there a water supply nearby? Where are the restrooms? Will the restrooms be open when the exhibitors arrive at the crack of dawn after driving 100 miles or more? Is there ample parking? Is there easy access and a convenient prep area for the exhibitors? Are there electrical outlets for a coffee pot and other equipment?

Rose Show Date/Timing
The date of the show is also very important. First, you need to coordinate your desired date with the available dates of the location. This is one of the reasons you need to plan the show a year in advance. Of particular importance is when the roses in your locale will be in their peak bloom. What will the weather conditions be? In Southern California, we can choose April or October, with secondary cycles in May, June, late September, or early November. The best show dates for us are mid-April and mid-October.

Another consideration is to avoid conflicts with other rose shows in your immediate area. Conflicts may mean a smaller show, as exhibitors and judges may be split up between the two shows. While rose shows are usually held on Saturdays, having two different rose shows on the Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend is not particularly a good idea. It can be difficult for exhibitors and judges to go to both shows in the same weekend, especially if they are coming from a long distance. Attending even one rose show in a weekend can be extremely exhausting for an exhibitor.

You will also have to decide if your show will be held for one day or two days. Of course, this will also depend on what the venue is willing to offer. And think about the hours of the show. Also, when will you set-up and dismantle the show? What time will you award the trophies?

Show Theme
Now it's time to think of a great show theme. Show themes can be fun. In Santa Clarita we have used "Carousel of Roses" for the past five years. The mall where we hold our rose show has a huge carousel at their entrance, and so we thought it a fitting theme, and the mall management loves it. At Los Angeles, we use "Fall Festival of Roses" since our show is held in October. Let your imagination run wild. Be sure to use the show theme on the show schedule and signage at the show, as well as the publicity to be sent to the newspapers.

Tell them about your rose show, and they will come. If you don't tell them, they won't know about it. There are many ways to do publicity, and most of it is absolutely free. 

Start with sending the time, date and place of your rose show to the American Rose Society magazine five months in advance of your show date. Also include the contact person's name and a phone number so that interested persons can call for a show schedule.

At least three weeks before the show, mail a show schedule to all known exhibitors in your area. This includes all exhibitors from other rose societies in your surrounding areas. Don't be content to invite just the exhibitors from your own society. The more exhibitors you attract, the better your show will be, and the more your own members will learn. Over the years I have accumulated an excellent mailing list of exhibitors I have met at the various rose shows in Southern California. This list is now on my computer, which I continually update. Our show schedules are mailed to over 50 exhibitors. Yes, there are some postage and printing costs involved, but it is well worth it.

Two weeks before the show, mail a press release to the local newspapers. Sometimes they will come out and take pictures of the show, or even your garden before the show. They have given us many wonderful write-ups which in turn have generated new members for our society. At the very least, the newspaper will publish your rose show in their calendar of events.

Also send the press releases to other rose society newsletter editors and presidents. They will usually list your rose show in their calendar of events, and this will encourage more visitors as well as exhibitors to your rose show.

Another great publicity method is to distribute flyers at the local retail nurseries and home improvement centers in your area. Ask the store manager if you can leave a stack of flyers at the checkout counter. They are usually very cooperative as this will eventually result in rose plant and fertilizer sales for them sometime in the future. It is relatively inexpensive to photocopy or instant-print the flyers, or even no cost if one of your members gets permission to copy them at their place of business.

Ask the mall (or wherever the show is located) to pay for ads in the newspaper. It doesn't hurt to ask, and you will be surprised at how accommodating they might be. Our mall manager even produces beautiful color posters that are strategically located throughout the mall in addition to running huge ads in the local newspaper the day of the show. This expense is part of their advertising budget anyway, and it helps to attract customers for them.

When the show is over, publish the winners. At the very least, publish all the trophy winners in your local society newsletter. Send a copy to other local society newsletter editors. Send a list of winners to the newspapers, highlighting the royalty, especially the local winners. Fill out the official ARS report form and immediately mail it to the current editor of the Rose Exhibitors' Forum.

The Rose Show Schedule
A rose show schedule should offer something for everybody. At the very least it should include a class for every ARS Certificate available. Include Novice and Judge's classes. If you have the space and budget, try to include an arrangement section.

The schedule should be easy to read. Print or photocopy using black ink on light-colored paper, either white or light pastel. Professionally typeset the schedule using an easy-to-read typeface, such as Garamond (as used here) or Times Roman, in type no smaller than 10 point. Put the headings in boldface, all capitals or underlined so exhibitors can easily locate the different classes.

The schedule should also include directions to the show and/or a map. Names of show staff and phone numbers should be listed in the schedule. It's also helpful to indicate to the exhibitor, clerks and judges exactly where they are to go when they arrive.

Show rules and regulations should be clearly and thoroughly written. Have a knowledgeable and experienced judge or exhibitor write the show schedule for you. Have it checked by several members of the show committee before having it printed. This will help to eliminate errors.

Let the exhibitors use wedging in their entries. Wedging makes for better exhibits, as the roses will not be flopping all over the place.

Include from four to seven Courts of Honor in the hybrid tea and miniature classes. This is always appreciated by the exhibitors who have sometimes traveled very far to bring their best roses to your show.

For more information about rose shows and the rose show schedule visit

Rose Show Trophies
The Rose Show Chairman should appoint a very reliable Trophy Chair. This person will purchase the trophies well in advance and display them on the trophy table at the rose show. It will be helpful if the Trophy Chair has an assistant as this is a very big job. The Trophy Chair or Show Chair will also recruit someone to write in calligraphy the winners' names on the ARS Certificates. 

Include in your budget ample funds to cover high quality trophies, as well as ribbons and ARS Certificates. If it's your first show, you'll have to take a guess at how many ribbons you will need, but try not to come up short, especially the blue ribbons. ARS also offers sticker-type ribbons that are much cheaper, but they look cheap, too. They are not reusable like the regular ribbons are, so they actually cost more in the long run. The number of required trophies will be determined by the number of classes you offer in your show schedule.

Decide what type of trophies to offer. Crystal is always popular. You can pick up some incredible bargains by shopping at the factory outlets such as Mikasa. High quality garden gadgets, gift certificates, and rose and gardening books are good choices. Silver and china are other options. Try to avoid offering trinkets from the 99-cent store as trophies. If that is all your budget can afford, be thoughtful in making your selections. In my area, it is unusual to offer cash money as trophy prizes, but it has been done. Sometimes rosettes will be purchased for the royalty or challenge classes in addition to trophies. 

Regardless of what level of trophy you offer, be polite and remove the price tag. Do not offer used junk from your garage as trophies. It is an insult to rose exhibitors who have worked so hard in getting roses to your rose show.

If your budget cannot afford quality trophies, then it would be better to only offer the ARS Certificates.

Solicit trophy sponsors from commercial establishments, members and regular exhibitors. This can be in the form of cash, merchandise or even recycled trophies if they are of high quality and have never been used. Publicize your need for trophy sponsors in your local rose society newsletter.

Try to award the trophies by 2 p.m. Many rose exhibitors have traveled long distances, after getting up at 3 a.m., therefore give them their trophies early so they can go home. The roses will remain on the tables for public viewing until the end of the day.

Code the trophies and the boxes or bags they came in with stickers, and indicate which class they belong to. This will help the exhibitor or trophy chair locate the proper box very quickly.

Within two weeks after the show, mail ribbons to those exhibitors who have requested that you do so, or request that all ribbons must be picked up at the show. Nowadays, usually only the newer exhibitors will request their ribbons. And ribbons can be recycled to the next rose show to save on this expense. An alternate is using color-coded dots on the entry tags, which are very inexpensive.

And when it's all over, don't forget to thank your trophy sponsors. You can do this by sending a card or letter and by publishing their names in the newsletter as well as in the show schedule.

Make It Easy For the Rose Exhibitor To Exhibit
Besides mailing the show schedule in advance to rose exhibitors, with clear directions on how to get there, offer them amenities that make their exhibiting experience enjoyable. Supply them with ample entry tags and rubber bands. Have trash cans, tables and chairs available. Provide hot coffee and fresh donuts upon their arrival. This means 6 a.m. Make sure the vases and other properties are ready and waiting, and easily accessible. Provide helpers to assist rose exhibitors with placing their entries. Arrange a specific prep area for the exhibitors. This may be a special room or simply in the parking lot. If the prep area is indoors, make sure the lighting and air conditioning are adjusted properly. If outdoors, they are on their own. Provide an easy water source. Give the rose exhibitors plenty of time to prepare and enter their roses. Three to four hours is sufficient. Four hours is better if you expect a large turnout. Let the exhibitors use any type of wedging they like: foam, foil, plastic wrap or rose stems and foliage.

Invite Good Rose Judges
The Rose Show Chairman should appoint a Chairman of Judges who is, preferably, a horticultural rose judge. However, the Chairman of Judges should not judge in the same show, as he or she will have enough to keep themselves busy. The Chair of Judges should invite a good selection of experienced rose judges, both horticultural and arrangement, several months before the show. The number of judges needed will be determined by how big the show schedule is, if your show is at peak bloom cycle, and if a large number of exhibitors and blooms are anticipated. It is customary to have 12 to 24 judges, with two or three judges per team, depending on the size of the show. It is also appropriate for the Chair of Judges to let two or three apprentice judges participate. 

Provide your judges with coffee, fruit juice and Danish upon their arrival. The Chair of Judges should also send the show schedule to the judges in advance, so they can familiarize themselves with the show. It's also a friendly gesture to send each judge a copy of the recent newsletter of the society. During the continental breakfast, the Chair of Judges can assign the teams and brief them on their particular assignments. This is also the time to assign clerks and introduce them to the judging teams.

Try to keep the judging process moving along, so that the task can be accomplished within two hours. 

After judging is completed, provide a sit-down luncheon for the judges. The type of luncheon will depend on your budget, but you have a number of choices. You can take them to a restaurant, have it catered, or provide a potluck from the members. Avoid having the judges drive to a far-away location. A nice touch is to give each judge a mini rose in a 4-inch pot.

The Rose Show Chair will also appoint a Chair of Clerks. This person will recruit clerks to assist the judges. Each team of judges should have one or two clerks. Try to train your clerks in advance so they know what they are supposed to do. Clerks are to do as the judges tell them and never engage in conversation unless asked by the judge. The clerks will carry a tray filled with an assortment of ribbons or colored stickers, a ballpoint pen and a hole puncher. The trays must be prepared in advance by the Chair of Clerks. 

After the rose judges mark and/or punch the entry tag, the clerk will attach the appropriate colored ribbon or sticker to the tag. Then the clerk will notify the Rose Show Chairman or "runners" of any trophy winners, as selected by the judges. The "runners" will bring the trophy winners to the reporting & calligraphy table for verification before being placed on the trophy table.

Properties for the rose show include such things as vases, bowls, English boxes, artist palettes and table covers. There are several types and sizes of vases needed. You'll need vases for individual hybrid teas and other large roses, as well as tiny vases for the miniature roses. You will also need some wide-mouthed vases for the collections and bouquets. 

You will have to decide whether to purchase your own properties or if the society will borrow or rent them from another society. This makes the most sense because a supply of vases is quite expensive and you will then also need a place to store them. It is customary to pay $100 to rent the properties from another society, with provision for replacement of breakage. 

A proper supply of vases could cost $800 or more. Floral suppliers and glass factories are good sources to buy vases. The vases should be clear glass, and all look similar.

The vases will need to be transported from storage to the show site and then returned to storage after the show. Recruit a member who has a big truck or van to be in charge of transportation.

It is not necessary to fill the vases with water, as the exhibitors usually expect to do this themselves. However, if you have a surplus of show staff, assign someone to fill the vases with water. It is a nice touch, but not necessary. Just make sure to have the water supply easily accessible and bring a hose and large barrel for dispensing the water.

This includes the items that need to be replaced as they are used up. Entry tags, rubber bands, ARS Certificates, ribbons and sign-in sheets are some of the required supplies. Exhibitors should bring their own pens, but it is a good idea to have a few pens on hand for emergencies. Remember to order your supplies early from the American Rose Society; several months in advance is recommended.

Setting Up The Rose Show
Set up the show the day before, if at all possible. This will help to alleviate mass confusion the morning of the show. Set up the tables. Transport your vases and other supplies and get them set up. Put the placement and trophy cards in their appropriate places. Make sure the water supply is working properly and ready to go. Double check with the facility management to ensure they will open early for the exhibitors and have lights on and bathrooms available.

Floor Plan
Plan in advance exactly how you want to lay out the floor plan of the rose show. Lay it out on your computer if you can. Specify exactly where you will position the tables for each class of rose and the trophy table. We also like to include a special table for all the blue ribbon hybrid teas and miniatures. Make copies of your floor plan and distribute them to all of your workers as well as the judges and exhibitors. This will make it easy for everybody to locate any class.

Prepare cards that indicate each class, and place them on the tables the night before the show. Make signs that tell about your society, offer roses for sale, or explain your membership dues. Once you produce these signs and cards on your computer they are easily made again in following years.

The Chairman of Placement is also an important position. Appoint someone who has worked a rose show before. This person will recruit several placement assistants. It is extremely important to have experienced persons do your placement, which specifically means to put the roses in their proper places. Make sure the placement committee has a copy of the floor plan and show schedule. You could also let the exhibitors place their own entries, especially the challenge classes, collections, English boxes and rose-in-a-bowl (the floaters). The Placement Committee should double check that all the entries are in their proper places before judging begins, but should NEVER touch any challenge class. If a challenge entry needs to be moved, or if there is some other problem with it, the exhibitor should be called to fix it.

Keep the Roses Watered
Cut roses will suck up water at a very fast pace, especially during warm weather or if yours is a two-day show. Turkey basters and a small bucket of water are very handy for keeping the vases filled with water. Assign a person to be in charge of this very important task. Nothing is sadder than having the beautiful exhibition roses wilt before the show is over.

Rose Society Membership & Information Table
Promote membership in your local rose society by having a table at the show specifically for this purpose. Hand out samples of your newsletter to entice them. Offer a "special" such as a free mini plant when they join. Since our rose show is held in October, we offer three months free membership when they join at the show. We always have a supply of membership forms available.

Your consulting rosarians or other knowledgeable members should be available at the show to dispense rose information to the public. This can be part of your membership table. We hand out rose catalogs and other rose-related literature.

Security may be an issue, especially if your rose show is held in an open environment such as a mall. Assign somebody to be in charge of security. The trophies may need to be guarded until they are given to the winners. Even the arrangements and some of the roses will need to be watched. Alert all of your members to be on the lookout. We are very fortunate that our mall management, which has security guards on staff anyway, assigns a few of them to oversee our rose show. Even still, we have had arrangements and roses disappear. We also place stanchions in front of the trophy table until the winners are awarded.

Dismantling The Rose Show
If properly organized, the rose show can be dismantled very quickly, usually within one hour. In our mall, we let the public take all the cut roses they want in exchange for helping dump the vase water into buckets. But before giving the roses to the public, we let the mall management take whatever roses they desire, which is usually the bouquets of 12. Then we give big bouquets to the employees of the surrounding retail stores. They love this and look forward to our returning the following year. This seemingly little gesture is an extremely valuable public relations tool. We supply small plastic shopping bags that have been saved from supermarkets for the public to take their cut roses home in. 

Be sure to empty all the water out of the vases before packing them into the boxes they came in, to avoid damaging the boxes or creating mold in the vases. You will need to bring several large buckets, towels, a broom and trash cans for leftover debris.

Say Thank You to All Who Participated and Helped
And, last but not least, be sure to say "thank you" to everybody who participated in your rose show. This includes all your staff, the judges, exhibitors, clerks, trophy sponsors, facility management and anybody else you can think of. Send thank you cards and publish names of all volunteers in your society newsletter. A little bit of thanks goes a long way.

© Copyright Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.

From the Fall 1997 issue of the ARS Rose Exhibitors' Forum, Kitty Belendez, Editor.

Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez

For questions about Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, contact: Kitty Belendez

Updated June 11, 2023

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