"The Blue Ribbon"
Pete McNees, Tuscumbia, AL
After reading in the ARS Journals about flower shows, fantastic trusses, and blue ribbons being awarded by the chapter flower shows; I began to think about going to one someday. But every year I would find some reason or another to not go. I remember one of my very best excuses was that I did not want to cut my best blooms. As events have a way of carrying you along, our daughter and her husband moved to Birmingham and all of a sudden my wife became a real promoter of going to the show that year. Very gently she carried my thinking to the point I was in a corner and no excuse seemed to be good enough to justify not going. So the die was cast and some of my rhododendron and azalea trusses were headed for competition.
There is very little information available about how you get ready for a show. The best data was from "The Larger Species of Rhododendron", pp 63-66, by Peter Cox. Whatever was done had to be done with the idea in mind that 130 miles separated my plants from the entrance booth. So my problems were in apprehension, timing, distance, and transportation. I got three soft drink crates with divisions for 24 bottles per case. These could be set across the back seat of the car. Next I began to decide which of my lovelies to carry to the show. This thought soon changed as I began to realize that what was in the best condition the morning of the show is what would dictate and not what I wanted to take. That certainly cuts deeply into what you had thought would be available. One other little item; Birmingham is 130 miles due South and that means 10 to 14 days further into Spring than I would be. So the thought of waltzing down and bringing home all their ribbons seemed a lot further remote than I had always imagined.
Next I decided that the flowers would be in a better condition if cut that morning. So began a daily vigil to see who would get to go. It looked for a while as if only Jeanie and I would be making the trip. Mercifully the weather warmed and some began to bloom out. I got several bottles of Fresca and began the wait for the day. My thought was to put each truss into a bottle of Fresca and set the bottles into the crates where they would not touch each other. Another thought was to shade the window where the sun would be coming in.
Well before the sun had come up on that fateful Saturday the bottles were ready, the window shaded, the nerves on end, and the car gassed and ready; and I stood poised with my sharpest snips waiting for daylight. Somehow that morning as I went from plant to plant to look, nothing seemed worthy. All the years of taking slides of magnificent trusses had disappeared, and everything looked ordinary. Right then I realized why I had made excuses for so long. Would my plants measure up? Finally reasoning took over and I began cutting trusses. One of the things I had read said to crush the stems and I decided that would be a good thing to do. None of my stems would crush. I hit one with a hammer and it broke but it never crushed so I have never tried to crush a stem since. When I finally finished I had ten trusses and sprays ready. I took one last walk through the yard and cut the top out of 'George Lindley Taber'. Now I had eleven varieties to show.
On the way down we wore heavy coats so as not to over-heat our cargo of blossoms. As I would look over in the back seat at the trusses they began to look a little better to me, and I began to feel that I would not be embarrassed to enter them.
We arrived at the Botanical Gardens where the show was to be held with a little less than an hour to spare before deadline. Jeanie began cleaning the leaves and I began filling out the entrance forms. I decided to enter all eleven. All around us were people getting their trusses ready and there was no time to get apprehensive. Finally with labels, entrance forms complete, Fresca in the Coca Cola bottles my trusses were ready for MANO-A-MANO.
Then the long wait began. First we had lunch with all the judges and other exhibitors. They all looked so cool, calm, and collected. I of course was having inner turmoil. As best as I can remember the food was good and the conversation excellent but my thoughts were with my eleven friends in the next room. Finally lunch was over and the exhibition hall was closed for the judging. Along with the others we toured the rhododendron gardens for over an hour. THE TIME HAD COME - the doors to the hall were opened and the judges were coming out. Hand in hand Jeanie and I entered the room. I told her to go on ahead and I would follow shortly. She would have none of that and so we approached the exhibition table. Lo and behold I had a ribbon on one truss, then another, and another until I had counted nine ribbons. Three blue, four red, one yellow and one BIG orange one for the best azalea in the show. My final stop to cut the top out of 'George Lindley Taber' had ended in success.
Cloud nine had a new seat and I was sitting in it. I know it will always be a thrill to go to the shows and enter into the competition; but nothing will ever replace that first BLUE RIBBON.