What makes a winning plant? Not just winning in the sense of attractive, pleasing, engaging. But winning in the sense of horticultural experts giving it an award as an exemplar of its species. Yesterday I spent a few hours at the Hortulus flower show in Greenwich, CT, to find out. It was a gorgeous show with several unusual “classes” or entry categories that challenged participants’ talents and creativity.
Exhibits are judged according to specific criteria including cultural perfection, grooming—and if the class is a plant grouping or composition—for design and originality. Extra points if the exhibitor propagated the plant. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I entered three plants. One of my Pelargonium x hortorum ‘Black Velvet Rose’ hybrid geraniums won a blue ribbon in the “Collections” class, in which one could enter a cut stem or spray of an annual or non-hardy perennial from your own garden. I grew ten of these from Park’s seed for a show last April, and they were most unimpressive until a week or so ago—when one of them decided to bring forth a tall spray (left) with three colorful blooms. You never know.
The real knockouts were in categories that required much more ingenuity and time. The overall theme was “Interiors,” and I was charmed (and so were the judges) by Holly Breeden’s moss-stuffed wire frame chair (below) covered with creeping fig—Ficus pumila ‘minima’ and ‘variegated.’
Another stunning exhibit was Adrienne Bullard’s blue-ribbon-winning, geometric carpet of apples, roses, sunflowers, magnolia leaves, hydrangeas, hibiscus and millet; this was entered in a flower-arrangement class called “Floored.” The rules called for fresh and dried plant material to be “staged on a rectangular platform 10″ high, 24″ deep, and 36″ wide; height of the design not to exceed 6″ from top of platform; to be viewed from above.”
Often the winners are not the tallest, splashiest, or most colorful, but they exude a kind of subtle perfection that requires a bit of contemplation. All the entries in the “Swatches” class of three or more rooted succulent plants in 12-inch terracotta containers (below) were like small desert plantscapes. You could imagine them a sets for a scene in Avatar, with superhuman creatures swinging between the sculpted echevaria and sempervivum.
In a container plant class called “Heirloom,” my fan iris—Neomarica caerulea—got a blue ribbon. It was grown from one offshoot giving to me a few years ago by my generous friend Jean Schon, who gardens in Hastings-on-Hudson in the summer and West Palm Beach in the winter. Fan iris is easy to grow and sometimes surprises you in the early summer with elegant little white and purple flowers. And a stem of one of my love-lies-bleeding plants—Amaranthus caudatus—got an honorable mention. I’ve been growing Amaranthus for their long, crimson tassels from Burpee seed; no nurseries seem to offer seedlings. They come in a cool lime green, too. For some reason, the green ones are much harder to grow. I’m working on it!