This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
I congratulate the cultivators of the Pelargonium on the prospect of an annual seedling exhibition, which, under proper arrangements, will be likely not only to improve but to extend the cultivation of this beautiful tribe of flowers. Allow me, however, to call your attention to the principles upon which a seedling exhibition should be conducted, if it is intended to be really useful: first, with reference to the prizes; secondly, to the mode of awarding them.
First, as to the prizes. I see, on reference to the Florist, vol. ii. p. 194, that at the first exhibition at Upton Park there were nine competitors only. I think, considering the popularity of the flower, that, under more judicious arrangements, a much larger number might have been expected, even at the first show. But when I recollect that only four prizes were offered, I confess I see no ground for surprise at the small number of exhibitors. An amateur, who raises perhaps fifty or a hundred seedlings, begins to consider before he packs up his pet for a distant exhibition, whether he is likely to get any thing beyond his labour for his pains; he reckons up the principal seedling-growers who may probably assail the prize-list, and obtains an indistinct but very discouraging vision of Messrs. Beck, Gaines, Forster, Hoyle, and perhaps one or two more floricultural Titans, competing against him for four prizes only ! As long as he can have a chance - though it amount to no more than a bare possibility of success - he is content; he is indifferent, in that case, whether his prize is 10s. or 10/.; but with four prizes only, what conceivable chance can he have against these gentlemen, with their 1500 or 2000 seedlings each? So, a very little reflection determines his course; he replaces his seedling on its shelf, and abandons the idea of competing in despair.
Now the four prizes awarded at Upton Park amounted in value to 12l. 10s. The same amount might have been divided into seven prizes - the highest 21. 10s.; the lowest 1l. - and the result would have been, that the number of competitors would have been doubled. If it be said, that it is not worth the while of the large growers to compete for small prizes; my answer is, first, that I hope and believe that no large grower exhibits seedlings wholly or principally for the sake of the immediate prize-money - he will not avow it, at all events; and secondly, that even in that case more advantage will result, both to the trade and the public, from a large exhibition open to a large class of small growers, than from a small one monopolised by a few large growers. There is another view of the case, as regards a class of persons usually supposed to be worth conciliating - viz. the subscribers. I think it will be found that their object is, less to give handsome prizes to those who already grow extensively, and therefore need no encouragement, than to encourage the cultivation of the flowers in the hands of the public.
Have, then, a sufficient number of prizes to induce the small growers to exhibit, and you obtain not only a greater number of exhibitors, but a better list of subscribers.
The second principle (which, by the way, is applicable to more important concerns) is this. To ensure confidence in your awards, take care to fix your judges with the full responsibility of their decisions. And for this purpose, first, let them be few in number, so that the responsibility shall not be divided; and secondly, let their names be published.
Now, without in the least degree impugning the decisions at the Upton Park show, the method of awarding the prizes there adopted was about the most objectionable in point of principle that can be imagined: the competitors themselves being the judges ! And, passing by the absurdity of a man's being both exhibitor and judge, observe how capable of abuse the system is. Suppose an exhibitor to induce his friends to exhibit under a pre-arrangement to vote for his seedling, what could prevent his obtaining a prize for the worst weed ever raised? This is an extreme case; but it suggests a minor degree of the same kind of abuse, more easily practised, and more mischievous, because more difficult of detection. Will it not be better to avoid suspicions of this kind? Let one judge, or at most three judges, be appointed, whose names shall be known and published beforehand: one judge must act impartially at all events if he has a grain of reputation to lose. Three judges are likely to act impartially, if they are previously advertised as judges, because the public and the periodicals are on the watch, and their own reputation for honesty and sound judgment is at stake.
As long as the judges are known, and are few in number, they are virtually responsible for their decisions; that responsibility not only prevents them from playing false, but does more, it prevents them from being suspected: a beaten exhibitor consoles himself under defeat as long as he can bring himself to believe that he has been fairly beaten; but if any doubt exists on this head, there is an end at once to all right feeling and all legitimate and honourable competition.
With a very sincere wish for the permanent prosperity of this exhibition, I invite attention to this subject, because I feel convinced, that to be useful, it is necessary, first, that the prizes should be thrown open to a more extended competition; and secondly, that they should be awarded by known and responsible judges.
Amateur. Cornwall, March 11th, 1850.
[All the points in the letter of our esteemed correspondent have had the careful attention of the subscribers to the fund. The best answer to all the objections raised is this - the plan is pursued, and found to answer, in societies for promoting the excellence of other objects than flowers. Personally, we should prefer appointed judges; but where are we to obtain them? However, the whole subject is now under consideration; and we invite communications and subscriptions immediately, as the day and place of exhibition must soon be fixed and advertised. - Editor.]