All Rose Shows Are NOT Created Equal
Understanding the Differences Between Local, District, and National Rose Shows

By Kitty Belendez
Master Rosarian

People new to exhibiting might believe that all rose shows are produced pretty much the same way. But, nothing could be further from the truth. Even local rose shows held within any particular region can be quite different from each other. When you compare local rose shows to district and national rose shows, the differences can be very significant. If you've been exhibiting locally for awhile and now feel the urge to exhibit at a district or national rose show, you need to be prepared for what to expect.

The Show Schedule
The biggest difference between local, district, and national rose shows is the show schedule itself. It is of the utmost importance to obtain a show schedule in advance of arrival, particularly for the district and national shows. A district rose show will include a special district challenge section in addition to all the regular horticultural classes which a local show would normally have. Additionally, a national rose show would include special national challenge classes in addition to the district challenges and the regular horticultural specimens. So you can see that a national rose show would indeed have a very large show schedule; that's why you must get it in advance and study it to determine your exhibiting strategy.

Exhibiting Goals & Strategies
The top goal at a local rose show will probably be the Queen of Show, plus any number of other trophies listed in the show schedule, such as Dowager Queen, Best Floribunda, or Most Fragrant. But, when targeting a district or national rose show, top exhibitors most likely will have a completely different set of goals. The Challenge Classes are usually the number one target at district and national rose shows. Most district shows will offer the McFarland Trophy, and other challenge trophies such as the Ralph Moore and Dee Bennett, while national shows will feature the Nicholson Bowl. Queen of Show can sometimes be a secondary priority. There simply is never enough time to enter every class, even if you bring enough roses. I will concentrate on the Challenge Classes first, depending on which roses are blooming in my garden. When all the Challenge Classes are covered, only then will I select something to enter for Queen or any other regular horticulture class. My best roses will always be used first for the Challenge Classes. Beginners may want to take the opposite strategy, and go for Queen, since the "big guys" will be concentrating on the Challenge Classes. So, why the Challenge Classes you ask? Well, the Challenge Classes are more challenging, and if you win, you get to take home a stunning perpetual trophy (a huge silver bowl, etc.) onto which your name is engraved. It's a real honor, and you get a great sense of personal achievement!

Filling Out the Entry Tags
Next, let's take a look at the most basic task in getting prepared for a rose show. Usually, a local rose show only requires that the exhibitor fill out the upper portion of the entry tag. Be forewarned that district and national shows usually require that you completely fill out both the upper and lower portions of the entry tag, including the Exhibitor's Number if you have been assigned one. Neglecting to do this will disqualify you, so it is best to prepare your entry tags the day before a show, because it is such a time-consuming part of exhibiting.

Set-Up Times
Local rose shows usually allow around three hours for set-up. Experienced exhibitors will arrive around 6:00 a.m. to get the best selection of set-up areas and show properties. However, at district and national rose shows, exhibitors will start prepping their roses around 4:00 a.m. or even earlier depending on when the show committee allows them access to the prep area. Why do they set up so early? For several reasons. For starters, district and national shows are scheduled at the peak bloom seasons, so exhibitors will have a lot of roses to bring. Also, district and national rose shows offer a much larger show schedule including many challenge classes which require a lot of roses. National and district challenge classes are so demanding of perfection, that exhibitors must spend considerably more time on grooming their entries. If they were allowed, many exhibitors would begin grooming their roses at 2:00 a.m. And, by the way, for long distance shows I always arrive the night before in order to get a good night's sleep. Other exhibitors prefer traveling throughout the night, and arrive just in time to start grooming their roses.

Rose show "properties" (vases) can be vastly different from show to show. Some shows use clear glass vases, while other shows use plastic or glass test tubes mounted on wooden blocks. Sometimes the entry tags have to be attached to the vases with rubber bands, and at other times the tags simply need to be folded and placed into the slot on the wood block, without using rubber bands. At the 1992 National Convention which was held at Shreveport, exhibitors prepared their roses in test tubes that were sitting on long blocks of wood with many holes, and then the test tubes were placed in huge bleacher-type racks in the exhibit area. It was a very unusual set up.

It's not uncommon for all the vases to be gone by 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., so it's best to arrive as early as possible to district and national rose shows, to ensure that you will get your share. I always bring a few vases of my own, in various sizes, for emergencies.

Transportation Techniques
I use three distinctly different techniques for transporting my roses to shows, depending on the distance that will be traveled: local, short distance, and long distance. There is not space in this article to go into great detail on transportation techniques, as the subject could be an entire article itself  so, I will only describe it briefly at this time.

For local shows (up to 150 miles), the big roses are not kept refrigerated while traveling. They are kept in plastic milk crates which hold nine half-gallon, cardboard milk cartons. A plastic drain pipe measuring 4" diameter and 24" length is placed into each milk carton which contains about 2" of diluted Floralife solution. One bloom is carried in each pipe. The Miniatures are kept in a small cooler while traveling.

For short distance (150 to 500 miles), the big roses are kept refrigerated in a custom-made cooler which my husband made to fit in the back of our Chevy Astro Mini Van. The cooler is made from sheets of 1-1/2" thick styrofoam, which have been glued together; the finished size is 48"w x 32"h x 36"d. This custom-made cooler holds six plastic milk cratesat least 54 blooms and a few sprays. Bags of frozen coolant are strategically placed in several locations inside the cooler. An indoor-outdoor thermometer is attached to the cooler, but only to ease our worries, since we do not open the box until we get to the show.

For long distance shows (500 to 3,000 miles), the roses are transported on an airplane. The big roses are stacked horizontally in an 80-quart Rubbermaid cooler with blocks of frozen coolant. Styrofoam cups protect each bloom, while the foliage is protected by plastic cones. A small block of moistened Oasis is pushed onto the ends of each stem, and wrapped with aluminum foil. The cooler is secured with a luggage strap. This cooler is shipped as luggageand prayed for. The Miniature roses are packed in a small styrofoam cooler, which is brought onto the plane as carry-on luggage.

Regional Judging Preferences
I'll never forget the National show in Shreveport where I brought what I thought was a beautiful, albeit humongous, spray of the Miniature rose Fancy Pants. As I walked over to set it on the placement table, several local exhibitors said, "You must be from California; it looks like you brought the entire plant." The spray consisted of more than 50 blooms, but the judges thought it looked like a "tree," and deemed it grossly oversize. Ironically, I ended up winning the Miniature Spray class that day with a tiny spray of Irresistible which only consisted of five perfectly-formed blooms. In California, my humongous spray could very well have won the trophy for best Miniature Spray, but in other regions of the country Judges may have different standards of what is ideal.

Placement Procedures
Sometimes local shows will have a placement committee or will let exhibitors place their entries themselves. District and national rose shows are generally much stricter, as exhibitors are only allowed to place their challenge entries. I like this. Not only does it save precious time in placing all the secondary entries, but it gives me peace of mind that my challenge entries will not be tampered with by other persons who will not be allowed to roam around the show floor until after judging is completed.

Registration & Costs
Usually, local shows do not require exhibitors to pre-register, nor do they charge a fee to exhibit. At most, a local show will require exhibitors to sign in on a sheet, but sometimes even this is not enforced. However, most district and national rose shows require exhibitors to pre-register, pay a fee, and get an assigned exhibitor's number which will be written on each entry tag. This is strictly enforced, and exhibitors who fail to register will be disqualified. The registration fees vary from show to show, but they usually cover registration to the convention and include most of the seminars. Sometimes, a convention will charge a nominal fee, or no fee, for exhibiting only.

Scope Out The Prep Area
The first thing we do when we arrive at a show is to scope out the exhibitors' prep area. For a local show, this takes about five minutes, and will simply consist of the parking lot or perhaps the entryway in a mall, and we will quickly locate the vases, water source, and other supplies. For a district or national show, the "scoping" can be a bit like detective work, since they are usually held at a hotel or convention center. If you arrive in the middle of the night, the task will be even more challenging. We start by asking the staff at the front desk of the hotel. Unfortunately they usually don't know where the exhibitors' prep area is, so we walk around and look for it ourselves. If the show committee allows early-bird exhibitors access to the prep area, we will reserve a table or two by putting our name on it. Otherwise, we wake up very early to be the first in line to grab a table. We like to select a set-up table as close as possible to the placement table as this will mean less walking. Be sure to take a look at the available lighting in your table area. There's nothing worse than having to groom your roses in the dark.

Come Prepared, and Expect the Unexpected
Even with the best planning, a local, district, or national show committee can forget something. It never fails. So, I always bring a supply of entry tags, rubber bands, extra vases, chairs, a table  even if I think the show will supply them.

Advance Planning Helps You To Win
Whatever type of rose show you decide to participate in, whether it is local, district, or national, it will be to your advantage to do some advance planning. In this way, your chances of winning will be greatly increased.

© Copyright Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published in "Rose Exhibitors' Forum,"  Kitty Belendez, Editor.

Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez

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


Updated January 4, 2016