Preparatory to beginning to cut flowers for exhibition, a number of jars or vases should be filled with water and placed in a light room or shed. The flowers should be cut with as long stems as possible, and for this purpose a pair of scissors is best, as the points get down into the axil and do the work without risk of cutting the main stem. Each separate variety as it is cut should be put in water.
The stage at which Sweet Peas should be cut for exhibition is when they are just coming to full perfection - certainly not after they are fullblown, and for this reason; all flowers, if cut at the right stage, increase considerably in size in water.
Most flowers which come from a distance to the big shows must be cut twenty-four to thirty hours before the show. This is obvious when we think of the distance they have to travel. With few exceptions, this long period does no harm. Varieties which it is advisable to cut as near the hour of the show as possible, are the crimsons and some deep rose-coloured sorts, also varieties which have a purple shading in the flowers. The latter do not improve in water, as the purple goes to a cold, dark shade - what we should call "blae" in Scotland.
On the other hand, self purples, blues and lavenders all improve in water, and should be kept in a good light.
To be specific - if suitable, I should cut my flowers on Friday morning for a show on Saturday, all except the crimsons and deep-rose varieties. These I should cut on Friday night, unless the prospect of settled weather was assured and the show was near home. Then I would leave the crimsons, etc, till early Saturday morning before cutting, and carry them to the show in water, when they would retain all their particular freshness and beauty. All other sorts would have improved by standing in water for twenty-four hours.
Sometimes it is impossible to avoid cutting flowers when they are wet. In all such cases a great effort must be made to get them dry before show time. This can be done by placing the jars containing the flowers in a dry, airy position - if no better place is obtainable, close to an open window will do if the door of the room is also left open to induce movement in the air.
The number of flowers required for a vase under the regulations of the National Sweet Pea Society is twenty. If preparing for a show under similar regulations, it is advisable to cut from twenty-four to thirty spikes, so that, when staging at the show, a selection of the best twenty can be made.
If twelve bunches are required, it is always advisable to carry with you one or two spare ones, as some varieties always carry better than others.
Some exhibitors carry their flowers all the way to the show in jars of water, but this is not essential. A very excellent way is to tie a handful of wet moss round the bottom of the stems, or wrap a piece of newspaper, which has been soaked in water, round the bottom six inches of the stems, then put a swirl of tissue paper round the entire bunch. The bunches can be stood upright in a square box like a tea-chest or they can be packed on their sides in a flat box, one layer deep.
Of course, it is essential that the flowers be absolutely dry before being packed in this way, and it is hardly necessary to say that the boxes must not be left to the tender mercies of railway porters without supervision. These men are often abused, but I have had over thirty years experience of them, and have never found them unkind to boxes of flowers, if politely asked to handle them carefully.
The flowers are usually staged in glass vases or small stone jars, and to prevent the flower stems slipping down to the bottom of the vases or jars, several pieces of Gypsophila or a number of rushes cut square across the top, are inserted into the mouths of the jars. When this is done the blossoms remain readily in the position desired by the exhibitor.
In arranging the vases on the show table, it is always best to work for a harmony of colour rather than contrasts.
The vases should be placed on stepped or tiered staging so that every bunch will be easily seen by the judges.
Each bunch should be named. Most societies make this a condition, but whether or not it should be done, as naming always makes a flower show more interesting and often conveys valuable information to beginners.