“Show and Tell”

by Norman Todd

(Reprinted without permission from the VRS newsletter of April 1997)

At this time of year I get bored by all the exhortations from the garden clubs I belong to.  “Pot up something now, today, to enter in the spring show”.  “Every member should have at least five entries”; “The club depends on the show to raise some revenue so we can keep our dues at a reasonable level”.  And on and on and on.


It’s the same thing every year and I think most of us get a bit fed up hearing the same tired old litany.  Still, I compete in the annual show perennially and even though most of our rhododendron branches with flower buds were torn off in the blizzard this winter, I am sure I will find enough to make the cut this time too.  It’s a lot of effort and it’s always done in a human blizzard of frenzied shears and overturned unstable beer bottles.  The plant names become mixed-up and individual flowers fall off the best trusses.  An attempt – far too hurried – to trim the top leaf to remove the evidence of what a weevil has already removed results in a shape that would win a prize in origami.  Squeezing all the bottles into a cardboard box that is far too small results in more mutilation to the best spray from the augustinii.  It’s a hassle all the way and time just evaporates like water from a birdbath in August.


You bolt down a sandwich while filling in entry cards and it sits in your stomach like the plug of sand at the bottom of the bottle that you should have put in the bottom of the bottle in the first place, to keep the darned thing upright.


When you get to the hall – and this year we have the added hazard of watching out for photo-radar – you wonder why you bothered because there are so few entries from the other members and the hall looks sterile and bare and the poor lighting brings out all the blue tones in your ‘Jean Marie de Montague’.  It’s the same colour as the blood blister you have on your left index finger that you gave yourself when you missed with the hammer trying to smash the stem of haematodes.  It’s no consolation that haematodes is well named.


Then you have to find which class your blue ‘Jean Marie’ should be in.  You will be helped by one or more members – saying different things.  They don’t exhibit.  (“Not a thing in the whole garden – that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  Ha, ha, ha”).  They get their jollies from seeing the few exhibitors’ unsteady hands trying to top up narrow-necked bottles with wide-mouthed spouts.


The hall floor is awash and a skating rink.  You are in danger of doing a triple Axle.  The show stewards have set up tables to conform to some impressionistic idea of colour harmony which has no numerical logic.  Class 41 is next to Class 17.  The organizer obviously had had difficulty at school counting after the number of fingers had been exceeded but has remembered saving all the red Smarties to the last.


When you do find the right place for your entry with the now sodden black paper skirt stuck to the half-empty bottle you find that some selfish show-off has nabbed the best place on the bench.  Innocently, you move it to the side and put yours in its place.  This assuages the tension in your stomach a little.  But when you come back with another truss on the now routine quarter mile trek to find the right class, you find that not only has yours been moved right of to the far side but turned around to show the hole in the truss where you knocked the flower off with your sore finger and you remember your language matched the colour of your blue ‘Jean Marie’.


Your stomach is now worse than ever.  Then into the hall comes this cool cat who in successive leisurely trips brings in box after box of huge, multi-hued 45-flower trusses.  The only consolation you have is that this latest competitor hasn’t a clue which classes his blousey barmaid trusses should go in either.  You leave that to the two non-competing helpers to decide.  Still it doesn’t help your stomach much.  But at least the hall is beginning to look lot better.  The non-competitive entries arrive and the hall starts to look resplendent.  But there are still a lot of empty spaces.  The judges are going to have an easy time this year, you think.


Once again you think that the rules should be changed to allow people to bring in entries on the Saturday morning.  Then I have a flashback to my childhood.  I recall my grandfather planning to put an entry of gooseberries in the local ‘Cattle Show’.  He had sacrificed all the fruit on the bush but five.  They were as big as plums.  On the night before the show someone stole all five.  I don’t remember the language but I think I remember the blue smoke rising in great clouds from his pipe.  Maybe it is better to have all the entries in on the Friday night: anyway the judges will have little enough time to make the wrong decisions.


So you go home on the Friday night vowing that you will have better entries next year and that you will try to encourage others – with tiresome exhortations no doubt – to compete.  And then you find you got a blue ribbon and a couple of Honourable Mentions and you decide you had a good time and the old stomach wasn’t so bad after all.