Out of the Icebox, Off to the Show
Jonathon Shaw, Newton, Massachusetts
Many chapters of the A.R.S. have only one show, usually scheduled to coincide with the peak bloom for their particular areas. A few chapters schedule two shows, hoping to include early blooming rhododendrons which rarely find their way to the show table. Yet even with two shows some rhododendron varieties will not be represented because they bloom at the wrong time. One spring several years ago as I began to get ready for the Massachusetts Chapter's Annual Show, it occurred to me that by refrigerating some trusses in advance I might be able to bring a few to the show that a good many of our members and the public had not seen before.
The show was the last Sunday in May and three weeks before I chose a truss each of 'Elizabeth, Creeping Jenny' and "Strawberry Swirl', two of my earliest varieties. Each truss was selected to be a day or two short of mature. The corollas of 'Creeping Jenny', for example, were almost open, but the lips of the flowers had not yet rolled outward, and the truss had a slightly pinched look. Each truss was placed in a glass of water and then stored in a refrigerator which was set to operate at about 35° F. A week before the show I included a third truss, one of 'Goldfort', which I cut at its creamy, full blown peak.
The night before the show I took all three out, and was horrified to find that about 1/8 of an inch of ice had formed around the stem of 'Creeping Jenny'. Although I expected it to collapse in a few hours, I placed it and the other two trusses, still in their glasses but refilled now with warm water, on the floor of a cool cellar to become acclimated to higher temperatures. The next morning all three, including 'Creeping Jenny', were in fine condition and had actually opened up a bit. They were duly entered in the show and later that day won ribbons.
Since then I have regularly brought refrigerated trusses to our annual show, and although none have won a cup, as other trusses of mine have, they have themselves widened the number of varieties that I and other members of the chapter have been able to exhibit.
From time to time I have thought of further refinements or experiments that might lead to improvements. Various temperatures (controlled by an accurate thermostat), fluorescent lights (the heat-producing ballasts could be placed on the outside of the refrigerator) or hormones in the water might all be tested to see what will produce the best results. In the meantime, without experimenting further, one can be sure of bringing some very good trusses to a show.
Used refrigerators cost very little and can often be obtained from a neighbor or by a bit of scrounging in affluent suburbs on the night before trash pickup. A refrigerator has other horticultural uses, as I have discovered, and having one's own eliminates family conflict. Bulbs, for example, will root nicely in the cool temperatures of a refrigerator, and seeds which need a period of cold stratification before germinating will also do well. All in all, a refrigerator is one of the most useful gadgets in the armory of the enthusiastic gardener.