Growing for Shows
Growing for Shows and Events
If you are serious about showing Spencer varieties you will need to grow your Sweet Peas using the cordon method. Old Fashioned, Species and Grandiflora varieties may also be shown, according to the specific Show Schedule, but these do not require special growing methods.
The classes for shows are organised by the number of cordons grown in order to make the competition fair. There are usually categories for vases, bowls and decorative arrangements. Read your schedule carefully and choose the classes you can do. The guidance below also relates to growing for special events or occasions such as a wedding. The information following is taken with thanks from the author: Sweet Peas: an Essential Guide by Roger Parsons. Crowood Press edn.2 ISBN: 9781 78500 5336
You may have already sourced your seeds, or may wish to use a variety of sources initially so that you can see which have better stocks and more reliable germination. You should have good seed from varieties which are appropriate for showing. One way is to check the annual audits of varieties published in the NSPS Autumn Bulletin. This shows those which have been most successful in shows the previous year, but this often omits many which would be just as successful. Many producers will indicate which varieties are suitable for showing in their catalogues.
Becoming a member of the NSPS will enable you to enter specific Sweet Pea shows and members are happy to help novice exhibitors, so well worth engaging with the Society!
The more plants that you have of one variety, the more chance of achieving a good quality vase on the show bench. As a guide, the number of plants to grow should be 2.5 times the number of stems required in a vase. So, if the show schedule requires 9 stems in a vase, then you should start with around 22 or 23 plants of the variety. This will mean sowing 30 seeds or more of the variety to ensure enough good plants for planting out.
See Growing for details of sowing and planting out.
Two weeks before the show
If the weather is poor before the show allow side shoots to grow a little, if hot remove them and ensure tendrils are cut off. It is better to water well two weeks prior to a show and then little unless you are on light soil. Too much water suddenly will increase the gaps between the flowers on a stem making for uneven placement. Optimum placement is considered by one very successful exhibitor, Alec Cave, to be achieved when the length of the internode is 95cm (3¾ inches), depending on variety.
One week before the show
Around one week before the show is the time to look at the developing racemes and see how many buds are present. These will be clustered in the growing point or else the raceme may be starting to extend from the axil. This gives an indication of how many plants are producing racemes with potentially the right number of flowers. Most modern varieties have been bred to consistently produce four flowers since this is what the exhibitor seeks to achieve.
During this final week prepare a checklist of all the things that you may need to take to the show for staging your exhibit. See Staging a Vase
Preparing blooms for the show
Monitor the weather and place protective covers over the plants if rain is forecast. Protect stems from winds by looping a wire around to hold those you wish to cut and securing the other end to the cane. If necessary, provide a foliar feed of sulphate of potash if it seems plants will have gaps between lower and upper flowers.
As a general guide, it is best to cut 24 hours before the blooms are due to be judged. At this time, blooms should be cut with the top bloom not quite fully open. They should be placed with the lower stems in cold water making sure to keep the blooms dry. It is worth allowing plenty of time for cutting blooms for the show if you can. Assuming time permits, examine each bloom carefully and only cut those that you will be content to put in a vase on the show bench. Having said that, you should always aim to take some spare stems to allow for damage in transit.
Membership means you will become friend to a host of other members, some world famous, many just keen and enthusiastic growers, but all sincerely pleased to meet you at various Meetings, Lectures and Shows.
In addition, you will be able to turn to experts for helpful advice and a ready response to your queries.