Exhibiting lilies

The exhibition of home-grown flowers and produce is a feature of England and America, and often engenders fierce competition among gardeners; it occupies many professional specialist judges, and allows the triumphant prize-winner to reap his reward – very often of only small financial benefit but of high prestige value. Large and small shows take place in all parts of the country, are fully reported in the press and exhibit a wide range of flowers and vegetables in and out of season; some are specialist exhibitions, and lilies are, of course, well represented. The North American Lily Society holds its lily show at a different centre every year, while the Royal Horticultural Society holds one each July in London; the two New Zealand lily organizations work on a similar system. Akcrsloot is the centre of the annual Dutch convention, held in July, where lily breeders and propagators meet not only to see the best lilies but also to take the opportunity of inspecting the new hybrids very often introduced on this occasion.

Lilies intended for exhibition must naturally be at their best, but this often presents great difficulties if long car, train or even plane journeys are necessary for delivery to the exhibition site. Jan de Graaff shows his lilies at most exhibitions, and always has them flown from either Oregon or Holland. Precise knowledge of how to prepare blooms for show purposes is essential, because a squashed flower, or one with pollen-dusted petals, will find favour neither with judges nor the viewing public. Such knowledge is of equal importance to the florist, who must present the best possible flowers for the best possible price.


Cutting should be confined to taking no more than one-third to one-half of the leaved part of the stem to ensure that a sufficient number of leaves remain to maintain the bulb.

Lilies will last up to 14 days in a water-filled vase, provided they are cut just as the lowest bud is about to burst into flower. Even then, the number of buds and prevailing temperature are apt to influence the length of time a flower spike will last.

Stems intended for sale or exhibition must be cut earlier – in fact, shortly before the first bud is about to open. Early morning, while the pollen sacs are still closed, is the best time of day for cutting. It is always advisable to carry a suitable water container around the garden as cutting progresses, so that stems can be put into water as they are cut. Spikes not intended for immediate use should be stored in a cool, dark place. Constant care is necessary to keep flower spikes apart, or else individual blooms or perhaps even whole stems are likely to bruise or be smeared with pollen dust; white lilies, particularly, need special care.

The readily available, purpose-designed, long and flat containers are best for packing lilies. They are first lined with sheets of foil or greaseproof paper, but care must be taken to allow sufficient overlap along the length of the box for folding over the top of the flowers, once they are in the box, to protect them from the box lid. The paper or foil lining also preserves the moisture and provides a smooth surface, causing the minimum of friction in case the blooms should rub against it. Each stem, from the lowest flower bud downwards, is surrounded with a roll of wood shavings or newspaper, which is covered in turn with a layer of greaseproof paper to support the inflorescence and prevent the flowers from rubbing against the carton walls. Greaseproof paper balls are useful for keeping individual blooms apart. To prevent stems from sliding within the box, they should be secured to the bottom of the carton with string or rubber bands, which have previously been covered with tissue paper, to avoid bruising or cutting the stems. If one or more flowers are open, it is essential carefully to remove the anthers with tweezers, otherwise pollen is certain to spot the petals during transportation; stamens are best wrapped in tissue paper. If the carton is large enough to hold more than one flower spike, the second is usually packed in reverse direction, I.e., with its stem adjacent to the flowers of the first.

Lilies with larger than usual inflorescence are best stored in a cool place and without water for half a day before being packed. This causes almost imperceptible wilting, and cases packing. To avoid buds opening during the journey a rubber band wrapped in tissue paper, slipped along the bud, is very useful.

Transportation and show preparation

Lilies will keep perfectly for two to three days inside the package provided they have been well packed, but even then it is advisable to choose the quickest available transport.

Cartons must be opened at once on arrival at their destination, the base of the stems cut back a little, and the whole spike placed in water and stored in a cool room. It only takes one to two days for flower spikes to fully recover from their journey – after that bloom after bloom rapidly opens. Care is still necessary to prevent pollen from marring the petals, and stamens must be removed.

Sudden periods of heat or cold are apt to advance or retard flowering, and it is often impossible to synchronize the optimum flowering period of a lily with an exhibition date. Many large nurseries have facilities where cut flowers can be delayed from blooming for periods of up to one month provided they are stored at a temperature of 35-5—38.5 DEG F (2-6 deg C); the same process can be followed with the aid of a domestic refrigerator or a cool cellar. Lilies, cut before any of their flower buds have opened, can be stored in the same manner up to exhibition date. If flowering is to be accelerated, lilies should be stored in a warm room to ‘catch up’. If, however, a naturally late-flowering lily is needed for an earlier time, the only satisfactory method is to raise it as a pot plant in a temperature-controlled greenhouse. Only experience can determine the required growing period and temperature needed to bring different varieties to perfection for a certain date; Americans have already succeeded in doing so and raise the Easter Lily with almost mathematical precision from the accumulated data of past seasons.

If lilies are to be at their best they should be arranged at least one day before the exhibition and so give time for several buds to open.

Lilies in pots need particular care during transportation. Each flower stem should be fastened with raffia to a parallel-1nserted bamboo cane. Further and somewhat longer bamboo canes are used to support individual blooms, which are fastened to the supports with crepc-paper. Individual pots are then arranged in rows in a suitably sized wooden box, and packed with wood shavings; small, narrow boards are nailed horizontally across the top of the box to keep the pots firm and upright. A lattice work is erected above the box to support the vertical bamboo canes which are tied to it. Anthers are wrapped in tissue paper, and blooms carefully lined with cotton wool. Lilies in pots should be unpacked two or three days before exhibition to allow them to regain their natural form.

It need hardly be mentioned that only perfect lilies of the best possible strains should be chosen for exhibition, and that they should always be correctly and legibly labelled.

Allocation of prize points

To lend interest to exhibitions and to encourage a large number of entries, shows are divided into a number of sections or classes. These are usually: a single lily stem; a single stem of a hybrid lily; three or six stems of mixed varieties; new and unknown lilies; individual varieties. In addition, lilies are often judged on the basis of their arrangement in vases, containers or in the garden. Judges work to a fixed scale of maximum points which they award for particular characteristics; the lily awarded the highest number of points is, of course, the winner of its class. Points are allocated on the following basis:

Appearance -The more open the blooms, the better, provided they are all at their best and show no signs of wilting. Flowers, leaves and stem must be healthy and be free of botrytis and fusarium symptoms. 30 Points

Vigour – Height and strength of stem, number of blooms, appearance of leaves. 20 Points

Flower conformation – How the blooms are held, their spacing, the shape and length of pedicels, overall impression of inflorescence. 20 Points

Flower substance – Do well-formed petals give an appearance of strength? 10 Points

Flower shape – Typical of variety? Well-shaped and pleasing? 10 Points

Flower colour – Clear, pure and pleasing colours are always awarded more points than muddy and muted shades. 10 Points

It is interesting to note that colour, usually the public’s first concern, is not rated nearly as highly by judges as conformation, health, and vigour.

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