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Judging flowers, plants is serious business

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Mikey Gregonis, 5, stands in front of a bonsai maple and grape in the Horticulture Building at the San Joaquin County Fair. He is shown holding a geranium cutting in a cup filled with soil that is ...


POSTED June 18, 2011 2:55 a.m.

Judy Picinini peered closely at the delicate cosmos flower in a small glass vase.

Her fellow judges, Kristin Hamilton and Bill Fernando, did the same thing. They exchanged whispered words as they went from one fresh flower to the next like flitting butterflies in a garden. There were day lilies, hydrangeas of different colors and sizes, alliums, lilacs, sunflowers – to name just a few that were displayed in a multi-tiered circular platform.

The three were judging the cut-flower entries in the Horticulture Building of the San Joaquin County Fair on opening day Wednesday.

The cut flowers were just part of the many plant categories that were being judged that day. The cactus and succulents, bonsai, orchids and other entries were judged on Friday.

“As a flower show judge, we’re not trained to judge bonsai, but we judged them at the fair because that particular fair is what you’d consider not a standard flower show,” said Picinini of Ripon.

Like many visitors to the horticulture display at the fair, the longtime Ripon Garden Club member was awed by the plant entries that illustrated the centuries-old Japanese art of growing dwarfed, ornamentally shaped trees or shrubs in small shallow containers.

“Oh, they had some remarkable bonsai!” she said of this year’s crop of entries. “In fact, there is one gentleman – he’s 82 now, and Amy was telling me this – and he still does the bonsai and brings them in to the fair.”

This year’s competition also brought “some very gorgeous” cactus and succulents entries, she added.

“I really admire the people that bring those great, gorgeous plants.”

What judges look for in plant entries

So, what do they look for when judging the plant and flower entries?

“It depends on what you’re judging,” Picinini explained.

“We have to take into consideration the weather – and the weather has not been really conducive to having some beautiful blooms right now. All the rains have really hindered (the plants). That’s one reason why there may not have been as many cut flowers (Wednesday) because of the weather. A lot of people’s roses just really took a beating from this weather. Roses are usually really beautiful right now, but with all the rain, hail and all – they just never had a chance!” Picinini said.

With the cut flowers, “the first thing we look for is make sure they are fresh,” she said. “They have to be turgid – perky is a good word – they can’t be wilted in any way to get an award. (The flower) has to have a strong stem, and most (contests) require that there be healthy leaf (in the cutting). And anything that has any insect or disease, any kind of plant disease on it, would not be considered.”

Picinini noted that sometimes, some people wonder why their entries did not win a prize.

“They have no clue what we’re looking for. They might not notice that the leaves and petals are starting to fold, or they might have some insect damage that may not be noticeable, but it’s there. We look at a certain degree of superiority because we judge each specimen on its own merit; we don’t judge it against another one in that class. If there are 20 roses, we judge each one independently,” Picinini explained.

And while there are three judges looking at the entries, “we’re looking at the same thing – form and texture, make sure foliage and stem have good color, that they’re hydrated and not wilting. And we look at the number of blooms and the size of the specimen, and possibly how hard it is to grow that particular plant, and the degree of maturity,” Picinini said elaborating on the criteria that they look for in the plant and flower entries.

The plants and flowers displayed at the annual county fair are not there merely for their ooh and aah factor, Picinini said. They have more important roles to play, she said.

“You’re educating the viewing public, number one, and you’re stimulating interest in horticulture and floral design, and you’re providing an outlet for creative expression. Those are probably the three main ones,” said Picinini, an avid gardener whose own garden on South Austin Road has been featured in the annual garden tour sponsored by the Ripon Garden Club.

“People go to the fair and they see all the beautiful horticulture and flower designs, and they get stimulated and they want to do the same thing. They might say, ‘I didn’t know you can grow hydrangeas here,’ and they know that these are flowers they can grow in their back yard and say, ‘Oh, I need to get back into gardening.’”

Picinini said she reacts the same way when she sees all the outstanding flower and plant entries at the horticulture show.

“Not that I can grow them all myself,” she quickly added with a laugh.

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