Horticultural Excellence
By Dr. Satish Prabhu
(From The Carolina District Newsletter, Fall 1999)

Horticultural excellence

What is it? One frequently hears reference to "Horticultural Excellence" while judging exhibits in a rose show. Briefly, the following constitute horticultural excellence.

How can one achieve horticultural excellence? Patience and perseverance are the two essential virtues one must cultivate in order to attain horticultural excellence. Obviously, soil fertility is one important ingredient. To achieve this, avid exhibitors chase winners of every significant award and try to extract any information on that secret ingredient they are suspected of hoarding. One can improve the soil fertility by merely dumping a handful of fertilizer and incorporating any organic mix, a shovelful per bush. But that won't necessarily get you the best results.

SOIL HEALTH is more important. Soil health depends on proper proportion of organic material, a crumbly structure that drains well, while retaining moisture and holding readily available nutrients, proper pH level and live and teeming with healthy, helpful soil organisms, 'including bacteria. fungi, mycelium and earthworms. Such a soil is cultivated by careful tending of the garden soil, with judicious fertilizing de- pending on a good soil test and following recommendations derived from the same, proper watering techniques and frequencies to maintain even soil moisture, without any excess nor any dry spells. Applying about 2 pounds of compost per square foot of bed space each year and carefully working it into the soil. Such a soil is the one I dream of and I crave for having in my garden. That is what many successful exhibitors have in their garden.

Too much hot sun in the Carolina Summers can indeed sap the life out of our plants. I do suspect the dictum of FULL SUN, ALL DAY LONG was originally prescribed for the more temperate European weather, where they have more cloudy and rainy days in a year than we have, and also, milder high temperatures during the summer days.

I am not surprised that roses receiving some shade during the day seem to fare better. If only I could come up with a way to have shade whenever I desire, without having to deal with the root competition, I think I could consistently grow some pretty good roses.

Suppose all of these things come together for you, there is still a third more of work involving protecting the blooms from extremes of elements, damaging winds, even a few drops of rain when the petals unfurl, a hole bored by the larvae (bud worms) or thrips. Harvesting roses at the right stage for each variety is an art acquired and improved by keen observation and constant practice. One also has to develop a good way suitable to your vehicular mode of transportation, to get your blooms safely, damage-free from your house to the site of the show.

Finally, some attention should be given to proper grooming of each specimen to attain the best form it can. However, let us not try to create a center where there was none, nor add anything artificial which was not there in the first place, for that is neither allowed, nor the right thing to do. There are basically four things involved in grooming.

1. Cleaning the specimen-stem and foliage.

2. Removing blemished petals or leaves.

3. Trimming of damaged petals.

4. Moving and re-positioning some of the petals to get the best possible form.

Any extra energy should be devoted to GROWING good roses rather than GROOMING them. One of improbable ways of hurting a good bloom with poor exhibiting technique is to stage a bloom on too long or too short a stem! (here we go again! but let us save more on this for another time!) Also, it is possible to do excessive trimming of petals on an otherwise good rose to make it lose its varietal characteristics. If you groom a dog, you will have a well-groomed dog. But if you groom a potential queen, you might indeed win a queen. The world's best grooming artist can not groom a dog into a queen nor beat an outstanding specimen of horticultural excellence, receiving minimal grooming!