What?   Go to Judging?

You have a beautiful Paph. Joe that you purchased as a seedling over five years ago and this year, when it bloomed, you took it to the Orchid Society showtable. Everyone commented on how nice it was and then someone suggested that you take it to judging. Judging? Why you have never taken anything to judging! But it got you to thinking. Maybe you do have an award winner here but you will never know unless you attend one of the AOS judging sessions. So what do you do now?

Actually there are several things that you can do to make an intelligent decision about whether or not you have an award winner. The first and foremost thing: Do your research! Wildcatt Database is a good place to start. There you can find out if the plant has ever been awarded and read the award descriptions. The next step may be a little more complicated but well worth the effort. Get a copy of what is commonly called "Fisher-Bishop" which lists all awards given by the AOS, when and where they were awarded, and the Awards Quarterly volume number which has the description and possibly a picture. All judges will have this information and many orchid societies have Fisher-Bishop and the Awards Quarterly in their library. Read up on the awards paying particular attention to the most recent awards, the highest awards, and awards with pictures. Compare your plant to these descriptions. Look at the measurements for the awarded plants and compare your plant to this. Remember these awards have set the standards by which your plant will be judged.

It becomes a little more difficult if Paph. Joe has never received an award. Then you have to look up the awards to its parents, read those descriptions and determine if Paph. Joe has some outstanding attributes that make it better than its parents.

The next thing that you can do is take a critical look at your plant. Draw an imaginary line which bisects the dorsal sepal and pouch. Are the two halves mirror images of each other? Or is one petal lower than the other? Is the pouch off center? Look at the color of the flower. Is there any color break? Are the colors or markings consistent? Are the markings (lines, spots, warts, etc.) well defined? Now turn the flower to the side and look at it. Are the petals and dorsal in a flat plane or do the petals cup forward? How about the pouch? It should also be in the flat plane. The exception would be some of the multiflorals whose pouches normally jut forward. Now turn the flower around to the back and notice the alignment of the sepals and petals. Sometimes it is easier to see if the petals are/are not aligned properly by looking at the back of the flower.

If this is a multifloral paph there are other considerations. How many flowers does Paph. Joe have? Is this more, less or about the same as some of the awarded plants? You want the plant to have the same number of flowers or more than previously awarded plants. How about arrangement of the flowers on the inflorescense? Is each flower well presented or are they too crowded? Did you stake the inflorescense properly? Plants like Paph. rothschildianum and its hybrids need to be staked going straight up the stake while Paph. lowii should be staked right below the first flower so that the inflorescense can arch gracefully for best presentation of the flowers. Every plant is different and you can look at pictures of plants or ask some knowledgeable paph growers to find out how to stake your plant.

You've been through all of the above suggestions and you definitely feel that Paph. Joe deserves to go to judging. Is there anything else that you need to do? Yes! Make sure that the plant is in pristine condition. The judges will not be judging the plant (unless they are considering a cultural award) but when the plant is brought to the judging table, the first thing that the judges will see is the PLANT. (Remember what your mother told you about first impressions?) Have all of the old flower stems been trimmed down close to the fan? Remember that scale outbreak you had last year? You finally managed to get rid of all of the varmits but make sure there are no dead bodies remaining on the backs of the leaves or down in the fans. If the pot really looks ratty, clean it up or sit it inside of another pot.

Are there some things that you shouldn't do? Yes, definitely! Do not approach an AOS judge and ask them to take a look at your plant or to give you an opinion of whether or not it is awardable. This is a "no win" situation. If the flower is really bad and I tell you that, you are going to be peeved at me. If it is really bad but I tell you it is great; take it to judging. If you take it to judging and the judges don't give it a second glance or even a minor consideration, you are going to be mad at me for lying to you. If, however, the flower is outstanding and you have me look at it, tell me all about how long you have had Paph. Joe, what great care you have taken of Paph. Joe and how proud you are of the plant, then you have eliminated me from being able to judge your plant. And if your plant gets a high AM or (Good Heavens!) an FCC, then I am going to be mad at you for eliminating me from the judging team.

Remember all of the criteria in the first paragraphs about the research and critical assessment of your plant? That is exactly what the judges will do when you take it in for judging. It may seem like a lot of work just to determine if a plant is awardable, but if you have some outstanding paphs or phrags in your collection go through this exercise with some of them. After a while it becomes easier and you will be able to make better decisions about flower quality on your own plants and plants that you may want to purchase. In the long run you will end up with higher quality plants in your collection and you might even want to consider becoming a judge!

Janette Harris

Certified Judge

Carolinas Judging Center

This article was published in The Slipper Orchid Alliance Newsletter. Used with permission.