Monday, March 9, 2009

Miscellaneous Prickly Topics

It's fairly difficult to get average orchid growers to our orchid judging sessions. It's not clear that this is necessarily a new thing. I remember somewhat sparse attendance, even as a child in Hawaii (a long time ago). However, given that orchids have gone mainstream ala Home Depot and the local grocery store, shouldn't we be able to take advantage of the growing number of people growing orchids to get a few more to our judging sessions? Here are a few questions for the crowd to mull over and discuss. I tried to stay away from conclusions to allow equal discussion from all sides.

1. Are orchid judging sessions too elitist? Do we need to do things to be more accessible to guests? I've seen far too many people bring in their prized plants only to be told that they're not awardable for some reason they never considered, only to never return.

2. Alternately, are orchid judging sessions just plain boring for the average person? Why do people go to society meetings? Is it the raffle? Is it the fun speakers? Do we need speakers in parallel with the judging to boost attendance? Free plants? Maybe an open Q&A? what's that bug? Why is my plant not doing well?

3. I have seen awesome plants on display at the local orchid society but they seldom seem to make it to orchid judging. Should we co-locate with society meetings to encourage participation? Should we judge the plant table at society meetings (perhaps ribbons all around and regular judging for actually entered plants)?

4. Shows are a lot of work to put on. Even little shows. I have heard occasional points of view, typically at little shows, that there are no displays that meet that judges "quality standards" for the show award. Are show awards as strict as quality awards or should they be used more liberally to encourage the hobby and to reward societies for putting on shows?

5. New quality awards and (unregistered) alternatives: should we have other awards available to increase interest and participation. Some possibilities include foliage awards, fragrance awards, "cuteness" or "impact", most improved (before photo and after plant), ribbons... People like to win things and might attend more often if they did. Is there a way to help them feel accomplishment rather than leaving empty handed and crestfallen without lowering judging standards for traditional quality awards? Would offering a foliage award increase sales of variegated and other novel foliage types? Would a fragrance award increase sales of fragrant orchids?

6. Is larger, flater, clearer and brighter necessarily the only way? For things with necessarily twisty, curvy, wonderfully obtuse flowers, should we really be trying to breed them into urbane flatness?


  1. I am not a judge. As an orchid hobbyist, I think you make some very good points. There is no doubt that people like to win prizes. At shows, how often have we all seen hobbyists thrilled to death because their plant won a ribbon? Since I have attended many judgings at WPB Center and also FL-Carib, I have watched hobbyists walk away disappointed because their plant didn't win a prize. Often these people travel many miles to submit for judging a plant they feel is worthy. I find points 1 & 5 very interesting and think it could encourage more hobbyists to bring in their plants. I don't know about other Centers but I am always amazed when in south Florida, where there are probably more hobbyists than anywhere, there can be a monthly judging with only a couple of plants brought in to be judged.

    Kathy Figiel in WPalm Beach

  2. On a somewhat related issue, we saw a 12 year old girl thrilled to death at getting a yellow NOMINATING ribbon for her Oeceoclades maculata. This is a good way to encourage youth into the hobby and it was suggested to a few of the "right people" that maybe all centers should be supplied with a handful of "special recognition" ribbons just for this purpose. But like so many good ideas, it gets lost in the shuffle.

  3. Great post! As Greg said, the 12 year old girl at WPB judging was absolutely inspiring! She was as proud of that plant as I would be over an FCC!

    The good news is the idea or recognition ribbons hasn't been lost--it is moving along the chain of command! :) I think recognizing youth is incredibly important and as Chair of the Education Committee, I can say the group is making quite a bit of progress on engaging youth in orchids. Engaging youth is critical to getting more people (young and old) involved in the judging process.

    What does that mean for judges? A method of recognizing youth exhibits and plant submissions at shows, monthly judging sessions, community events, ribbon judging. The Education Committee is bringing this idea to the trustees in Houston. This idea was Kathy's (see above) and I couldn't be more excited about the possibilities!

  4. 1) Regarding elitism, by its very definition judging is elitist. We look for the ones that are the best. What I think needs to happen is for the general public to become more aware of AOS standards. That's the reason I put the award measurements and descriptions on the Pacific Central and California Sierra Nevada web page. That way people can measure their own plants or look at the symmetry, balance etc of awarded flowers and judge their own plants against that. I love watching the dog shows on Animal Planet. I don't own dogs but I love watching the dogs strutting their stuff. Even *I* can see their quality. I hope our web pages allow the general public to see the quality in our region's awarded flowers. Hopefully (in the spirit of 'dang mine's better'n that!') a few more folks will be encouraged to show their orchids.

    6) Hey hey hey! 'Urbane flatness'? What's with the all the value judgements? (Kidding! I'm only kidding around. Don't take me seriously, LOL!)

    This is a great question. V coerulea is line bred not to have twisted petals, 'windows' between the segments and 'ping pong paddle' shape. Paph spicerianum is line bred to flatten that great dorsal sepal. Paph gratrixianum is line bred not to have a great spotted dorsal sepal but stripes instead. V tessellata isn't olive green anymore, now its grape purple.

    What's up with all this messing with Mother Nature?

    And should we be awarding it?

    Personally I think there's a happy medium hidden in the concept of 'type and breeding'. If you know and appreciate the convoluted weirdos, their contribution to shape and the passage of traits in a hybrid program then you have a responsibility to teach your fellow judges and elevate their game. As Motes does with his 4 part article on the species Vandas. (Just one example. There are many) Personally I think that's why we judge as a team. Not like dog shows where one guy says what's best. A group of us get together & talk it over, quantify our opinions and average them. I think that's also why we have to travel outside our regions so we see how other people think.

    Just my opinions. FWIW.

  5. Now Kathy, man has ALWAYS messed with Mother Nature. And your mention of line-breeding certainly opens the disussion to chemically altered, line-bred species. How should judges deal with those? Currently, they are treated as superior examples of the species. Or what about the Brazilians messing with the gene pool by breeding C. walkeriana and C. nobilior? After a couple generations you won't know which is which or how to judge them. There is a good article inan old AQ by Ernie Hetherington about just this topic. I will se if I can find it.

  6. Looked back over Ernest Hetherington's articles in AQ+ and found 'Gems of the Jungle or Handiwork of Man' which may be the article you're thinking of, Greg. Always good to read & re-read whatever Hetherington writes, IMHO.

    Kinda makes me happy to know these issues have been dealt with before, *G*!

  7. In regards to the comment about Urbane Flatness, I would like to remind all of the evolution of Paphiopedilum awards. In the period prior to about 1980, it was rare that a Paph hybrid that was not of complex breeding was awarded. The judging community was focused almost singlemindly on round and reasonably flat flowers as this was the standard set out in the judging handbook. To illustrate this point, in 1975 or 1976, I was clerking at a show in which a particularly nice Paph appletonianum was shown. While it did well in the ribbon category, it was not pulled for AOS judging. Later I asked a good friend who was an AOS judge why wasn't the plant considered for an AOS award.
    He conceded that it was the best he had seen of this species but said "Why would you award a race of cripples?"

    This limited focus on complex hybrids started to change in the mid 1970's when Ray Rands started to import and sell Paph species in large numbers. More importantly, he made or remade primary hybrids with no particular goal other than to see what he could get seedlings from. His efforts started others to begin to produce primary Paph hybrids but usually a little more selectively. The other major push to change how we looked at and judged Paphs came from the sensational Paph callosum 'Sparkling Burgundy' FCC/AOS. Rex Van Delden used this remarkable cultivar to create the first vinicolor Paphs such as Vintner's Treasure, first awarded in 1982 ('Sparkling Burgundy' HCC shown my Fred A. Stewart Orchids) and last awarded in 1990 ('Pinot Noir' HCC shown by Ron Midgett). With the renewed interest in species and primary hybrids, complex hybrids became difficult to get awarded! In fact, the decline in interest in complex hybrids extended to the entire US orchid community. This led to a near cessation of breeding activity (except for white complex) to the point where some large breeders sold off their stud collections at bargain prices. Rather ironic, given the resurgent interest in complex Paphs that we have seen recently.

    Thus, with Paphs, type and breeding became the theme for awarding them recognizing that the standards set in the handbook could (and should) be modified to give these great flowers their rightful place.

    This same struggle has played out in other orchid groups and still creates tension within the orchid community. Today, you can see this in the Vandaceous alliance with the introduction of Vanda hybrids by Martin Motes using some of the species to create new forms.

    I hope that you all enjoy this post and reflect on what it means to consider type and breeding when judging.

  8. Is orchid judging elitist? In a word "YES"

    As a hobby grower, a commercial grower in my area suggested that I attend an AOS judging center. I thought that would be interesting and I might learn something.

    Well that was a mistake!

    When I got there, the person that appeared to be in charge told me that I could not come in, I was not welcome, and had to leave. I explained why I was there and that a local grower had suggested that I come by. She went inside and found the grower and began to interrogate him as to why he was inviting people to the center.

    Finally, she decided I could come in but she said I could come in ONLY "If I kept quiet, did not ask any questions, and made NO comments."

    Well, to say the least, I am NEVER going back. I am content to grow my orchids for my enjoyment WITHOUT the judging, shows, society meetings, festivals, orchid conferences, etc. Why would anyone want to get involved with something that had such an unwelcoming attitude

  9. I don't know how this thread ever got dropped - it's crucial that these issues continue to be reviewed and that sensitivity to them among the judges, commercial growers, and local society members be increased and maintained. I personally have had a mostly positive experience with the Atlanta judging sessions, but when my husband and I go, we are the only non-judges/non-commercial-growers there. We too were discouraged to go in by someone who was not in authority and who was quickly corrected by the Chairperson. As it happens, I have won 2 HCC awards since August of 2011, but have received no notification or record of the prize except for the bill for receiving the award!!!!! I have yet to see any evidence of these awards, despite having contacted many of the higher-ups at the AOS. Perhaps there IS no certificate of award anywhere - I can't find the answer to that anywhere. But then, I'm just a lowly hobbyist. I have to say that I am dismayed at this issue because the AOS monthly judging session has been so much more positive than my local orchid society experience. After being a member of the local OS for over a year, I maintain my membership, but avoid going to most meetings. I have won a number of meeting ribbons for my orchids and, being new, am treated distinctly now as persona non grata. I know orchid growers have a tendency to be eccentric, but isolating and hostile to new growers? Seems to me the AOS has a big project on its hands if it truly wants to encourage people who are just learning to feel "a part of".