This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
Floral exhibitions undoubtedly had their origin, in part, in the desire to display publicly the products of one's skill and to attain renown and a position of preeminence among one's fellows by successful rivalry and the demonstration of superior cultural abilities. But, in addition to this factor of self-interest and excusable pride, the laudable spirit that seeks to promote a taste for ornamental gardening and floriculture in general, and to acquire knowledge and diffuse information concerning it, has from the first been a powerful incentive; and it cannot be questioned that public floral exhibitions have contributed most substantially to the advancement of refinement and good taste and exercised a potent and salutary influence on the domestic life, health, morals and happiness of the respective communities in which they have been held.
Exhibitions of plants and flowers, as usually conducted, may be broadly divided into two classes:
(1) Those whose particular purpose is to demonstrate advancement in cultural methods and exploit new and improved varieties and which are calculated to interest primarily the trade and professional gardeners. The unavoidably monotonous system of staging exhibits in such an affair is well known. To the general public, its salient points are scarcely apparent, and the elements which often appeal most strongly to the professional are all but lost on the average visitor. It has been demonstrated over and over again, that as an attraction for the people who look for entertainment in a show and are willing to pay for the privilege of seeing it, this sort of an array is fundamentally deficient.
(2) if public support is sought, the first requisite is that the public fancy be considered and catered to and the character and scope of the exhibition be such as the people care to take an interest in. A practical demonstration of the uses of flowers and plants and their appropriate arrangement for the various events of social or home life will invariably excite curiosity and interest when prim rows of dozens and fifties of competitive blooms will often fail to awaken appreciative response. It is to be regretted that the so-called retail florist trade has so long been neglectful of its duty and its opportunity as a supporter of and participator in the flower shows. Without the assistance and cooperation of the experienced decorator and artistic worker in flowers, these affairs must invariably fall short of their mission and their educational possibilities. How to overcome the indifference of this branch of commercial floriculture toward these enterprises which should bring immeasurable benefit to their industry is one of the serious problems for which those who believe in flower shows must find a solution before the ideal of what a horticultural exhibition should be can be realized.
The direct cost of installing a public flower show is no small matter and many a commendable enterprise has failed through lack of sufficient income properly to finance it. Rent of hall, music, advertising, premiums, tables, vases, management, labor and a host of incidentals must be taken carefully into consideration, and to launch any such project, under conditions now existing, without some form of endowment, subscription, guaranty or other definite and reliable resource, apart from the uncertain sale of admission tickets, is merely tempting fate and taking chances on misfortune.
The grouping of pot-plants for effect calls for talents of a high order. Arrangements of this kind, which are so indispensable in giving character to a flower show that will appeal to the artistic eye as effective studies in form and color, are indeed rarely seen. Two almost universal faults are excessive formality in contour of the group and overcrowding of material, and it not infrequently happens that when a studied effort has been made for irregularity of outline, the result is still unnatural and often almost grotesque. The promiscuous mixing together of incongruous subjects, as, for example, hardy conifers, tropical palms, geraniums and orchids in one group, is all too common. A tasteful grouping of plants of congenial character will always inspire enthusiastic admiration among cultured and discriminating visitors, and if the flower pots are hidden from sight by moss or other natural material, the pleasing effect will usually be further enhanced, particularly in the case of plants which might naturally grow together.
It is well known among flower-growers that the time of day, the condition of development, and other factors have a considerable influence on the keeping qualities of their product. A sojourn in a cool, dark room over night with stems deeply immersed in fresh water is really an essential with many flowers if they are to remain for any time in good condition in the atmosphere of an exhibition hall. Nothing is more disfiguring in a flower show than a lot of wilted blooms. Much depends upon the style of vases used. Vases spreading at the top and narrowing to a point at the bottom, while perhaps the most graceful in form, are very destructive to flowers, the small quantity of water available at the base of the stems soon becoming heated and impure. Constant changing of water, and keeping down the temperature of the hall will help to preserve the exhibits. Table baskets and dinner-table exhibits generally, as often arranged, scarcely last until the first visitors are admitted. Only those in which the flower-receptacles are such as contain water can give any satisfaction in a flower show.
The background against which flowers are shown, as the color and material of the walls, covering of tables, and so on, has much to do with the general impression, favorable or otherwise, on the visitor. Green - the natural foliage green - is unquestionably the "middle of the road" background hue for flowers. Back of and beyond green, the neutral grays and browns, and sometimes pure white, are pleasing and satisfactory. It is worth noting that, while terra-cotta or flower-pot tones are usually beyond reproach as a background for living green, yet a brick wall is a disheartening condition for this purpose, showing that it is not alone color which decides the appropriateness of exhibition hall walls or drapery.