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Written by Steve Keeble with additional material by Robert Amos
Please note that these comments are only the author's personal opinions and do not reflect the views of the Alpine Garden Society, or any AGS judge in any way.
Pots should be clean and undamaged.
Clay pots are preferable to plastic.
Use new top dressing that is appropriate to the plant. Think about where it grows.
Plants should be blemish free. Remove any dead leaves or blooms.
Use no accessories. Climbers must trail.
Remember that plants should be appropriate for a rock garden.
The AGS Shows Handbook defines a rock plant as:
"All plants, including shrubs, suitable for cultivation in a rock garden of moderate size or in an unheated frame or alpine house. It excludes any plants which will not survive an average British winter in these conditions but includes many plants which do not necessarily grow in mountainous regions. The term excludes 'over-selected' forms of plants, such as Show Auriculas or Florists' Cyclamen." - Note 14 from the AGS Shows Handbook.
Plants should be hardy, although unheated cover is allowed.
Three Pan Classes:
Think of the combined effect of the plants.
Plants in bloom are preffered. (Except in foliage classe!)
Plants should be as distinct as possible. The AGS Shows Handbook defines 'distinct' as:
"Distinct means 'distinct varieties'. Obvious colour variants or sufficiently different forms are distinct varieties for this purpose." - Note 14 from the AGS Shows Handbook.
Colour and shape of foliage are both important.
Avoid any trace of green when entering plants in 'One pan rock plant wih silver or grey foliage".
An aged plant is required.
Ensure there is no dead foliage within the plant.
Notes from Robert Amos:
For the past few years I have been given the privilege of shadowing the judges and this has given me some clue as to what they are looking for when deciding on a first prize plant. Please note that these comments are only my personal opinions and do not reflect the views of the Alpine Garden Society, or any AGS judge in any way.
Although clay pots are preferable to plastic, the plant's container has no affect on the judges' decision, as long as the pots are clean and have no decoration. Plastic pots have some advantages, the main one being how little they weigh in comparison to clay pots and many plastic pots now look very similar to clay. Terracotta coloured plastic pots should be used if possible, but black is acceptable and if no other option is available then green. Other colours should probably not be used; brightly coloured pots would not only look odd on the show bench but would also detract attention from your plant.
When judging plants for 'group effect' many judges stand six feet from the show bench to see which exhibits stand out and then move in for a closer look. Sometimes entries can give the wrong effect, for example at one show there was a conifer, a Sempervivum and a Cyclamen entered in 'Three pans rock plants for foliage and group effect'. Although individually the plants were fine, together they seemed out of place. Some plants are not always considered as giving a good effect, for example ferns, conifers and some shrubs but this is not always the case. Plants that often do well in foliage classes are Cyclamen, Asarums and other plants with patterned leaves. Patterns are not a necessity however; I have won many 'Three pans for foliage and group effect' classes with Ophiopogens plansicapus 'Nigrescens'.
As it says above, you should ensure that any conifer you enter is 'clean', i.e. there is no dead foliage within the plant. Rather than throw the dead foliage onto the compost heap, leave it in the pot as additional top dressing. This gives the plant a more natural appearance as well.
Even though a plant's label is not taken into consideration when being judged, it is still a good idea to make the judges' lives easy and have a clear name for your plant. Horizontal labels are now a necessity and specially prepared show labels are better than ones that were there when you bought the plant. If you do not know the name of the plant, leave the label blank or with '...' For example: 'Saxifrage...' Normally judges will then give you the name of the plant. Make sure you also write out plant names properly; for example 'Daphne hendersonii 'Kath Dryden'', rather than 'Daphne Hendersonii 'Kath Dryden''. If you're stuck on what words to capitalise then you can always cheat on capitalise the whole thing! Factors such as labels may seem insignificant when showing, but everything that gets the judges on your side helps!
Old plants are given preference over young plants, rare plants are preferred over common plants, flowering plants are preferred over nonflowering plants (except in foliage and cushion plant classes, in which any flowers are ignored) and natural looking plants are preferred over those that have been given unnecessary special treatment. Bigger isn't always better, but it normally indicates the plant's age. Make sure plants are in reasonable sized pots. Do not try and squeeze your plants into pots just so they do not have to be shown in the Open Section! Judges will see that it looks cramped and will normally dismiss it.
Although looking at what wins is helpful at national shows, whatever you do, do not go out and buy the same as everyone else. In six months time you will find yourself in the situation where you have the same as everyone else but your plants are half the size of the others! Try to look at what people are not growing, look them up in reference books to see if they are show worthy and buy them.