by Ludwig Taschner
Just like playing cricket, rugby, soccer, golf and tennis and taking cats, dogs, rabbits and doves to be judged in shows was developed in Great Britain. So was the exhibiting of roses. Playing soccer, golf and tennis were adopted in most countries of the world, whereas cricket, rugby, cat, dog and rose shows remained very much a domain in countries with a strong English influence.
As is the case with playing sport, it only becomes interesting with the setting up and observing rules. The more intricate the better.
The exhibiting of roses became a mania in England in the latter 1800 and lasted for a century. An aspect that let to this mania was that anyone could take a hand in growing and grooming a “perfect” rose. A commoner with a small garden as much as a wealthy landowner aiming for the coveted “Best Rose on Show”.
The varieties that produced champion blooms or “queen of show” received all the publicity and rose nurseries concentrated in propagating such varieties and breeders of new roses selected novelty varieties with traits and qualities to produce winning blooms. Every trick in growing was used. Varieties which only produced super exhibition blooms with constant care and grooming were preferred since this cut out a great many competitors who did not have the knowhow, patience nor the funds to purchase the various chemicals for fertilising and pest and disease control. The dominance of “exhibition varieties” carried on until three decades ago, when flowering performance and ease of growing became the deciding factors for a good rose. ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Iceberg’ are typical examples. Of course, classes and rules where soon adopted to allow blooms of these varieties onto the show benches.
My first introduction of rose competitions was in 1961/62 in England working for John Waterer’s – The Floral Mile near Twyford, Berkshire. The company, at the time one of the largest mail order nurseries in the UK , exhibited at Chelsea not with roses , but Irises, Peonies, Azaleas and most spring flowering shrubs and trees and with roses at all major rose shows held in July and September. I could not believe my eyes seeing tables and tables packed with tubular vases each displaying an individual blooms. The jubilation and disappointments after judging that took place was just as amazing. To me all roses exhibited were beautiful. A new aspect of my “rose education” started – looking for blemishes. Obviously, the exhibitors were all experts and only blooms of the highest standard were placed. I quickly realised the reason why loose petalled varieties like ‘Sutter’s Gold’, ‘Virgo’, ‘Charles Mallerin’ and ‘Grandmere Jenny’ were overlooked by many visitors to the Waterer’s stand. Since then, when walking through rose fields, parks and gardens my eyes are drawn to blooms with a typical exhibition shape with a high pointed centre and lots of reflexing petals.
Visitors, or rather potential customers to Buss Nurseries in Pretoria quickly realised that this young German chap actually knew what they were looking for. In the early sixties there were very few garden centres and roses had to be ordered for supplying as bare root plants in winter. I very soon got to know the keen exhibitors living in the Vaal Triangle. Amongst them most of the founder’s of ROSA Dr Fred Ziady, Dr Bokkie van der Spuy, Attie van Zyl, Dick Lindner, Dr Saville come to mind. In those days Spring and Autumn Flower Shows were organised by the various Horticultural Societies filling the town or city halls with flowers. Fred Ziady and wife Ray would rise very early on the second Saturday in October drive to Benoni stage their roses at the show, on to Brakpan to do the same and on to Johannesburg City Hall. The flower Show in Pretoria was always held a week earlier. Too early for the exhibitors living on the Rand to have their blooms ready.
In those years Willie Krause of Eden Rose Nurseries in Noorder Paar catered for the keen exhibitors in the Western Cape, Christian Muller of Floradale Nurseries in East London and Jesmond Dene as well as Olivier Nurseries (later bought out by Lyn Keppler to become Star Rose Nurseries) in New Germany, Natal. I must not omit to mention Jan Herholdt of Herholdt’s Nurseries in Eikenhof who was the representative for many breeders and of course Meilland and who did breeding on his own, notably ‘Mimi Coertse’ and ‘Nightingale’. The latter became a prominent exhibition variety in the UK although due to a mix up by famous Harry Wheatcroft, it was known as ‘Gary Player’.
I was asked to judge for the first time in 1969 together with no lesser than Sam McGredy at the Star Rose Show in the City Hall of Johannesburg in December. Not to clash with the Flower Shows organised by the Horticultural Societies in Spring and Autumn, the Rose Societies had to find a suitable timing in-between. There were always three judges and a steward eliminating personal preferences. In the seventies I travelled often to the Flower Shows in Johannesburg to judge and received a cheque for R 2.50 for travelling expense. Mind you, this did buy 25 litres of petrol.
Rose judges in SA assessed in accordance to rules set up and printed in the UK and the USA. However, in our hot climate exhibitors could not take the chance of displaying blooms too far developed. Often in the hot halls such blooms would open up losing their pointed centre before the judges arrived and blooms had to be at a more immature stage and of course varieties with too few petals had no chance. Willy Stegeman of the Western Cape Rose Society compiled the first judging manual in South Africa which was eventually adopted by the other rose societies in South Africa. That was in the days before our Federation. I remember the argument we had at one time that I was asked to judge Cape Town. We were three teams of two judges who then had to come together and decide on the best rose on show. The other teams had found two blooms of ‘Carlita’ to be tops and I had a hard time persuading my partner judge Willy Stegeman to go for two blooms of almost equal quality of ‘National Trust’, entered, I think, by Dick Lindner. Of course, I like star shaped blooms with the petals reflecting to a sharp point. After discussions between the 6 judges it was then agreed to make a ‘Carlita’ queen of Show and a ‘National Trust’ the runner up. I argued that even that was not fair. If the one ‘Carlita’ was first the other one of virtual equal quality had to be second and ‘National Trust’ third or the other way around.
Since, I have judged in New Zealand, the UK, Argentine and the USA. Often I could not agree with the decisions by the local judges. It is never easy. In the US today one talks about the stem war. Stems shorter than 70 to 80 cm with magnificently polished leaves, but to my mind a bit out of proportion, have no chance of winning.
With the experience I gained from exhibitions and judging I obviously selected many new rose varieties with those qualities. Rose exhibitors in the USA soon discovered that Ludwig’s Roses in Pretoria had superb exhibition varieties, that did well in hot climates and most of all could not so easily gotten hold of. We exported rose plants until sanctions put a stop to it. At one time of the 20 top exhibition varieties as published in The American Rose, half were named by me. ‘Elegant Beauty’, ‘Lynette’, ‘Nightingale’, ‘Rina Hugo’, ‘Esther Geldenhuys’, ‘Andrea Stelzer’, ‘Helen Naude’, ‘Delicate Beauty’, ‘Brides Dream’,’ Bles Bridges’, are some of them.
About twenty years ago the experienced exhibitors of ROSA amended the guide lines of judging roses set out by Willie Stegeman and these were approved by the ROSA council for judging roses in South Africa. Prof Johan Moll did some sterling work on compiling a manual on the exhibiting of roses in both official languages, inclusive of the Heritage roses and this was published in the ROSA ANNUAL 200 . Amendments were made very recently.
However, with all these rules and pointing systems to hand, judging will never be free of that certain bit of individual preference. Many, many years ago it sort of was jokingly said that if Barney Ziady is the judge, make sure you enter blooms of ‘White Christmas’, although he was known to favour the star shaped blooms of ‘Ann Letts’ just as much. With two blooms of equal quality with regard to stem, leaves, freshness, shape size, the star shaped bloom will give me a nudge, although I have also put up an argument with fellow judges to let a ‘Just Joey’ win.
It was like in the old days in early November when Lizette du Plessis from Hennenman, who had “cleaned up” a week before at the rose show in Bloemfontein’ visited our rose farm looking for new exhibition varieties. I should not let out which varieties she choose giving her the edge for next year’s show. (in 1963 at Buss Nurseries we had a batch of about 25 plants of the new yellow HT ‘Golden Sun’ in the field. Bokkie van der Spuy came to look at new rose varieties, saw them and the obvious qualities as an exhibition variety and he paid for all plants on the spot for reason that we would not sell any of these plants to other exhibitors for that year. Needless to say, he won many prizes with blooms of ‘Golden Sun’ the next spring. We had taken the hint and budded lots from the 25 plants and had good stock for the year thereafter when every exhibitor would pay anything to get hold of plants of this variety. Three years later ‘Kings Ransom’ arrived and ‘Golden Sun’ plants were shovel pruned by most exhibitors). Oh yes, look out for ‘Salmon and Moonlit Spire’, ‘Anne Lorentz’, ‘Hestrie’, Lollipop’ and if Marie Favard, who manages our Winelands rose centre,is asked to judge – ‘Avant Garde’ will be it.
On the more serious side of rose exhibiting, no doubt it has lost its popularity it used to have. However, with generous prize money as is the case in Bloemfontein many more gardeners are enticed to bring their blooms and the same applies now to Flower and Rose shows organised by local garden clubs or Tuinbouverenigings in the Platteland. Recently, I judged in Standerton and Fouriesburg and was impressed with the many entries. A problem exists with the classes set out by the organisers. ROSA should compile a database of the very many garden clubs, etc. and make sure that the organisers are in possession of the approved classes with explanations and sketches of what is expected.
One stem of a Hybrid Tea is usually understood. Blooms cut from climbers i.e. ‘Isidingo’, ‘Aperitif’ or ‘Compassion’ should are acceptable in that class, as well as any blooms from the Spire(R) range.
When it comes to Floribundas it get’s confusing. It should actually state Clusters. There are many floribunda varieties which do not produce clusters and it is impossible for a judge to make a decision between a huge cluster of ‘Simplicity’ against a single bloom of ‘Fidelio’ or ‘Friesia’. Clusters cut from suitable climbers are acceptable in this class.
Another nightmare for a judge is “three stems of floribundas in different opening stages.
When it comes to exhibits with single blooms i.e. ‘Dainty Bess’ again it needs to be stated if it has to be a cluster and if it is strictly blooms with 5 petals or up to 9 petals. I will be happy to see Climbing Cocktail included in this class.
Miniatures classes too need to be much more specified.
It should be stems with one large bloom
Stems of one small bloom
Stems with clusters
Exhibiting and judging roses with nostalgic flower shapes is again very difficult deciding between deep cup, open cup, pompom, rosette or quartered shapes. These may be stems and blooms cut from Heritage roses, Antico Moderno(R), Panarosa(R) and Fairy Tale(R) roses. In regions were the growing of Heritage roses is prevalent one could have classes for specific types or varieties or the different flower shapes.
And of course it should be stated that the roses to be exhibited where grown outdoor. Over the last two decades there has been a swing in the commercial production from small flowered cut roses to large flowering cut roses. The breeders followed suit and there is at present an incredibly wide range of hybrid tea varieties with breath taking flower shapes available. Unfortunately most do not show their true beauty since they are harvested too early and will not open to perfection in a vase. By keeping them for some days longer on the bushes in the green house no judge would be able to pick out the champion – they are that perfect and that many.