Preparation before cutting
Decide what you will show 2 or 3 weeks beforehand and in dry weather keep the soil moist by generous watering. The main flowers of a stem can be aided by removing weak side shoots. Protect from heavy rain and splashing of soil. Check that the staking of tall plants is secure. If pot plants are growing strongly, give them plenty of room, turning the pots often to avoid lop-sided growth.
Check how many blooms are required, and allow one or two extra in case of damage. Select flowers that are fresh, free from damage due to weather, pests or disease, undeveloped blooms and ones past their peak. On branched stems or sprays a good proportion of flowers (say two thirds) should be 'out'.
Cut on the evening before the show when the flowers/foliage are cool. Stems should be cut long and placed in a bucket of water at once. Slanting cuts aid the uptake of water. Remove unwanted side shoots and lower leaves. Leave overnight plunged in clean water up to their necks in a cool position. Ensure pot plants have enough water to see them fresh through the show and home again.
Remove any florets or foliage damaged on the way to the show. To assist continued uptake of water, recut the base of all stems, making sure that the length retained is right for the size of vase. Exhibits in these classes are not 'arrangements' as such but the judge will be influenced by attractive presentation and the exhibit that displays flowers to the best advantage will make the more favourable impression.
Strive for a balanced exhibit, with your flowers of even size and quality, and in containers of the right proportion. There is nothing against wedging steins in a vase to give stability, providing it is done inconspicuously. Do not, allow foliage to show if it is from plants not being exhibited. It adds to the interest if you can label the entry neatly with the name of the variety.
Finally before you leave
Check vases have enough water and are stable, and the entries accord with the schedule (numbers of blooms especially). Make sure you leave the correct entry card against the exhibit.
Water thoroughly all vegetables you intend to show; leaf vegetables will retain freshness and roots are less likely to be damaged when lifting. Wash root vegetables using a soft cloth or sponge. Select specimens for condition, size, shape, colour, tenderness and uniformity with each other. Display should be one variety in single dishes. These are all assessed by the judge. Size is meritorious, but only if accompanied by quality. Trim the tops of carrots, beetroot, and the like, leaving about 7.5cm of leaf stalk which should then be tied neatly. Remove coloured outside leaves, but avoid overdoing it. Stage attractively.
Notes on popular classes
Beans, dwarf or climbing: Straight, fresh snap pods of even length with 1.5cm stalks, no outward sign of seeds, good colour.
Beans, runner. Long, slender, straight pods; condition as above.
Beetroot: Globe type should be spherical, no bigger than tennis ball size, with smooth clear skins and uniform, dark colour, small tap root; long has broad, clean shoulders tapering evenly.
Cabbage: Solid heart with surrounding leaves and bloom intact; approx 7.5cm of stalk.
Carrots: Tender roots of good shape and colour, good size and variety, free from side roots, skins clean and bright.
Courgettes: Young, tender, well matched fruits, colour immaterial but length of 10cm to 20cm is very important, with or without flowers.
Cucumber: Fresh, young, green, tender and straight fruit of uniform thickness with short 'handle' and flower if possible.
Garlic: Clean off all soil, dry completely. Reduce stem to about 2.5cm. Stage bulbs as complete specimens, do not divide into cloves.
Lettuce: Firm, tender and unbroken hearts of good colour.
Leeks: All parts should be washed. Avoid excessive stripping of outer leaves. Uniform length, firm and compact. Uniform blanch and no bulbousness at base.
Onions: Firm, thin-necked bulbs, uniform; remove leaves and tie necks neatly.
Peas: Large, well-filled pods, tender seeds; retain 1.5cm stalk and handle by this to keep bloom, hold up to strong light to show any internal damage and reveal number of peas in the pod.
Peas-mangetout: Pods flat with seeds present but undeveloped.
Potatoes: Select well-matched tubers, not more than 6 oz each, clear skins free from blemish, eyes few and shallow, wash carefully.
Peppers and Chillis: Should be of good shape, size and colour with no blemishes
Rhubarb: Take from the garden as grown, not forced. Aim for straight, long, tender stalks with good red colouring. Trim leaves to 7.5cm.
Shallots: Show as separate bulbs not as cluster, dried off and free from staining; cut off root, tie tops neatly; stage on dry sand on a plate and slightly raised in the centre.
Tomatoes: Medium-sized (5-6 to the ½kg) ripe but firm, with stalk (calyx) attached. For small fruited or ‘cherry’ types, fruit should not be more than 4cm diameter. Stage on plates, stalks uppermost.
Sweet Corn: Cobs should be cylindrical with green husks and ‘silks’ retained. Keep 2.5cm stalk. One or two husks should be pulled down and neatly tucked under the cob. This enables the judge to see the colour and condition of the grain which should be fully set and in straight rows.
Collections: Stage within the space allowed. Note that judges often use the pointing system, and this means that different kinds of vegetables have an exhibition value fixed by the difficulty of production; e.g. a perfect dish of onions have 20 maximum points, but a bunch of radishes only 10. See RHS Handbook for details. c/o Show Secretary.
Check your entries accord with the schedule and ensure you leave the correct entry card against the exhibit.
The specialist would say that preparation begins at planting with choice of variety, but most people are probably blessed with gnarled old apple trees and unpredictable plums, which are likely to be beyond spraying and pruning in a small garden.
If there has been a good set of fruit, thinning is the most useful thing to improve quality. Start thinning apples and pears in early July after the 'June drop' and aim for final spacings of dessert apples one fruit per cluster, 10-15cm apart, and cooking apples one fruit per cluster, 15-22.5cm apart. Pears need less thinning, to not more than two per cluster. For plums, thin first when the size of hazel nuts, and again when twice this size, aiming for fruits 7.5cm apart. Use scissors or secateurs.
Protection against birds and wasps is important. The best solution is to put perforated polythene bags over selected fruits. Avoidance of overshading by removing or tying back foliage will let in sunshine and aid even colouring.
Many kinds of soft fruit have finished by the Show date, but there are some fine varieties of later raspberries and strawberries well worth growing for quality and showing. Protect with netting. In dry seasons these later soft fruits will require regular watering.
Pick as near to show time as possible. Currants should be picked with the strings intact, choosing the longest strings with the largest fruits. Melons, and grapes in the bunch should be picked and shown with the stalk intact. It is easier to use scissors rather than fingers. When handling, try to avoid spoiling the bloom. All fruit, except apples, pears and gooseberries should be just ripe. Apples, pears and gooseberries may be shown under-ripe, but the judge should give preference to varieties in season rather than others. The general expectation is that fruits shown, except dessert apples, should be slightly above average size; enormous specimens are not wanted. For dessert apples, fruits may be a little above or a little below the ideal size of 7cm.
Aim to present a neat attractive, exhibit, symmetrical if possible. Do not polish the fruits; keep the bloom. Stage apples with the eye uppermost, and pears and similarly shaped fruits (e.g. figs) around the plate with the stalk to the centre. Arrange other, smaller fruits in rows across the plate with stalks pointing away from the front.
Finally, before you leave
Check the entries accord with the schedule and ensure you leave the correct entry card against the exhibit.