As members of rose societies, we and our organizations spend a significant amount of time and energy planning and putting on our annual rose shows. We often start well before Christmas, choosing and juggling dates that will match our peak bloom time, are acceptable to our host mall, and hopefully will not conflict with our neighboring societies. We spend much of the spring fighting (sorry, negotiating) with the mall for space, tables, and other necessities, dunning our members for trophy donations, making sure our show schedule coincides with the latest classification and/or judging changes from the ARS, getting our judging invitations out before the pool is depleted, etc. etc. We must find storage for our vases and supplies, arrange for hauling the same back and forth, arrange to have our mini roses in a state of non-diseased leaf and bloom for our sales table, round up enough C.R.s (or at least warm bodies) to staff our membership/information table, and perform any number of other minor but crucial tasks. In short, we run ourselves ragged for a 1-2 day display of roses, seldom stopping to ask, “Why are we doing this? What is the purpose of a rose show? Are rose shows really necessary for our educational function? Are they helping our society thrive and prosper, or are they having the opposite effect?”

Many societies find their rose shows to be positive and advantageous. They are able to get everyone pulling together for a common good, fostering a sense of cohesion and esprit de corps among their members. They are able to recruit new members from mall patrons who stop by the information booth; and through miniature sales, advertising, sponsorships, and advantageous arrangements with their malls, are able to come out in the black, or at least break even, on their show finances. Other societies, however, see their shows as somewhat of an albatross around their neck, a “necessity” that they conclude each year with a big sigh of relief. They may wind up losing money on the show, may alienate members with yearly requests for trophy donors and show volunteers, or may generate few/no new members because of poor locations or other factors. Some societies find it difficult to recruit officers and board members because of the built-in responsibility of putting on the rose show. Societies within our District have managed to hold their own with an abbreviated or even the lack of a rose show, while others have foundered in part because of rose show stresses. If we have not yet asked ourselves “Why have a rose show?,” perhaps it is time.

A philosophical justification for rose shows is primarily that they have proven to be the most effective means of educating people, both within and without the rose society, about roses. We can write newsletters, bulletins, and other printed material on rose culture and rose varieties until we are blue in the face, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding; at some point we need to deal with real roses if we are going to be effective. Rose shows are probably the most efficient way to bring the most people and the most roses together in one place. Competitive, judged shows had an added advantage in that they encourage the best possible specimens of the assembled varieties. Excellent specimens lead to questions of “How did they grow them so well,” which then progresses to discussions of care and culture.

The major disadvantage of rose shows, other than all the hoops you have to jump through to successfully stage one, is that they display only blooms and foliage; they are a Miss America contest with faces but no bodies (heaven forbid!). The budding rose grower gets no information about plant height, habit, or disease resistance, bloom habit, and any number of other important features of the total rose. To my way of thinking, a garden visitation is much more informationally rewarding than a rose show. Unfortunately, few if any gardens will have the number or variety of roses to be found in a show, plus the participation of the “general public” at a garden visit is much less than a rose show in a shopping mall. Rose shows may not be the perfect educational tool for our societies, but most would allow that they’re the best avenue we’ve got.

Just because we accept this or similar justifications for the importance of rose shows, however, doesn’t mean that we have to follow exactly the same procedures and routines every year in the execution of our shows. I think that too often, whether out of tradition, inertia, or the sincere belief that ours is the best way to run a show, we follow the same patterns and approaches year after year, without ever questioning whether they could be improved. This is not to say that some approaches are inherently better than others, and no, it’s not a roundabout way of trying to sell you on the superiority of alphabetical/varietal shows. Different societies will have different situations and circumstances, and what may work well for one may not for another. Rather, this is a suggestion that we occasionally step back and take a look at all facets of our rose shows, particularly those that are stale or problematic, and think about whether (and how) we could improve upon them. We all strive to conduct our shows as fairly and as efficiently as possible, as well as within the guidelines established by the American Rose Society. However, they are just guidelines, and in truth they specify merely the barest skeleton of the total infrastructure of a rose show. Options are many and latitude is ever present.

In a series of articles in future Northwest Rosarians, I hope to introduce and discuss some of these options, variations, and changes of latitude. Some have been used successfully in various local shows within our District, and some have been observed at shows from other ARS Districts as well as from ARS Nationals. All have built-in advantages and disadvantages, and you may decide that the former outnumber the latter for your own show situation. If you have better ideas for show logistics, I’d love to hear about them. In any case, dialogue about how best to operate our rose shows can only be advantageous; ideas that are considered and subsequently rejected have value too.

As we show chairmen, judging chairmen, schedule chairmen, and others prepare for our spring shows, think about how you could change just one or two things to make the show better, even on a trial basis. If you don’t like the results, you can always return to the old procedures. If we’re going to spend all that time and energy on or shows, it would seem that we have a responsibility to hone and refine them into the best they can be.