Preparing Iris Stalks for a Show
by Vince Lewonski
The Delaware Valley Iris Society is having a show again this
year. We would like to encourage all of you to bring some stalks,
even if you have never done so before.
Here are some tips for selecting and preparing iris stalks for a show.
This may be the most critical part. How do you decide what looks good enough
to take to a show? Start looking at
your garden several days beforehand to see which stalks appear to have
potential. If a stalk looks like it
will have fresh flowers open by show day and the branching and spacing look
good, you may want to mark it with a piece of colored yarn. Some people cut their stalks the night
before the show, but I wait until the morning of the show so that I can pick
ones which have just opened. If bad
weather threatens, however, you may want to cut the stalks and bring them
inside ahead of time.
The flowers should have NO faults. This is hard to find, and even harder
still to get those perfect flowers to the show. Bent petals, bruised petals, holes from aphids, extra petals,
petals pointing in strange directions, and spider webs all detract from the
flower's beauty. Tears in the petal
are okay as long as they are naturally occurring, and do not deform the
petal. Having multiple flowers open
is a plus, but not a requirement. You
are better off having a stalk with one nice flower than several flowers that
are starting to shrivel, have tears, or display other faults. And you want flowers that will look good
at the time the judges view them, not just when you see them hours before the
If the stalk is leaning badly, don't bother to cut
it. You won't be able to get it to
stand up straight in the bottle, and the flowers will tend to be pointing
outwards. If you have a leaning stalk
that you think has the potential to be a good show stalk, make sure that you
stake it a couple days before the show. This will give the flowers time to
change their alignment so that they again are pointing upwards.
If the iris has multiple branches, they should all be in
the same plane. Even having several
nice open flowers might not be enough if the branches are all pointed in
different directions. The stalk selected should be free or nearly free of
leaf spot. Some trimming to eliminate
this is allowed, but if extensive and obvious, it will be penalized by the
If at all possible, choose a stalk that has the terminal
bud open. If there are multiple
flowers open, they should all be the same size. Secondary buds from the same socket tend to be smaller.
The spacing should be well away from the
stalk. You don't want any flower to
be rubbing up against the stalk or against another flower. The flowers should be nearly
vertical. Pointed in towards the
stalk is known as "towing in", and pointed out away from the stalk
is known as "towing out".
Both of these are faults, and will be penalized. You can help the flowers that are "towing
in" or have a petal rubbing up against the stalk by wedging a piece of cotton
or cork between the branch and the stalk.
This may be enough to keep it in that position by show time. Just don't forget to take out your wedge
when you get to the show!
If the cultivar is a space-ager, make sure that all
flowers are uniform. Space-agers tend
to have some beards with horns, some with flounces, and some with just a
regular beard. If it is supposed to
have horns, it may be penalized if only some petals have horns and others do
Label the irises at home as you cut them so there won't
be any memory lapses at the show. Do
not write on the stalk. If this is
noticed by the judges, they may take points off. Instead, write the names on a string tag, which you can loosely
wrap around a branch until you are at the show.
Always cut the stalk as close to the ground as
possible. You probably will not keep
it that length, but you can always cut it shorter, while it is impossible to
make it taller. Usually there is a
leaf or two attached near its base.
If they are going to end up crammed into the bottle neck and all bent
over, take the leaves off! On the
other hand, keep any leaf that is attached to the stalk above the bottle
neck. Stick the stalk into the bottle
and step back. Does the curve of the
stalk at the base prevent it from standing straight? If so, you may want to trim off a few
inches. Does it look top heavy
because all the branching and flowers are well above the bottle? Again, you may want to trim the base of
the stalk. Generally, the bottom
branch should start a few inches above the neck of the bottle.
Often the bottom branch starts so low to the ground that
when you put it in the bottle, the base of the stalk does not touch bottom of
the bottle. This can make for an
unstable stalk, but having the lower branch right up against the bottle neck
makes it look unbalanced. Raise it up
to a level that is pleasing, and wedge the stalk at that height by putting
cotton or a cut section of stalk into the bottle neck. You can use this same method to hold the
stalk in place even if it is all the way down. Make sure, though, that the cotton or pieces of stalk are not
sticking up above the neck of the bottle.
If there is a branch where all of the buds have already
bloomed, don't leave this branch attached.
Carefully cut it off where it joins the stalk. This is hard to do and still make it look
natural, so such stalks should be chosen only if they are otherwise
excellent. Take off any spent
blossoms, carefully cutting the ovary off at the base. Use a cotton ball to wipe off any
fingerprints from the stalk. If there
are cobwebs, insects, etc., take these off carefully. Sometimes the tip of the leaves can turn
brown or have leaf spot. Use a
scissors to carefully trim off the brown area, but maintain the graceful
shape of the leaf, and cut off no more than ¼ inch. Never, ever cut the leaf straight across!
For the DVIS show, bottles are provided by the show
committee to provide a uniform appearance.
Other clubs may allow you to bring and use your own containers
provided they meet the show requirements.
DVIS uses green-glass wine bottles.
Some clubs use brown bottles or PVC pipe as their containers. The wine bottles tend to be forgiving for
less than perfectly straight stalks.
If there is too much of a curve at the bottom, however, no container
will be able to compensate, and the whole stalk will be leaning. Often you can compensate by cutting the
stalk a little shorter, eliminating the worst of the curve.
Occasionally you have a really thick stalk which is just
too fat for the bottle. If possible,
and if allowed by the show committee, try to find a wider necked bottle for
this monster. These are very hard to
find; therefore, you may have to trim the base of the stalk vertically to a
size that you can cram into the bottle.
Make sure that the cut portion is not exposed above the neck of the
bottle, as this is unsightly.
For other than tall bearded, a smaller bottle can
provide better proportion for a smaller, shorter iris. If this is permitted by the show
committee, try a dessert wine bottle, a beer bottle or even a little wine bottle
such as those served on airplanes. In
any case, the smaller bottle should be the same color as the other show
bottles and, of course, the labels should be removed. The show committee, nevertheless, may
require only one size of bottle for overall show uniformity.
Flowers that are partially opened at the time they are
judged will be marked down, so if you have a bud that is only partly opened,
you may be able to speed it along by putting warm (not hot) water in the
bottle, keeping it in a warm room, judiciously using a blow dryer, and, as a
last resort, carefully helping it along with your fingers.
The tricky part is getting the stalks to the show. I put the bottles in a box that once held
a case of wine, making sure that they are spaced far enough apart so that no
petals hit one another or any car parts.
Generally, I fit about six stalks into a case-sized box. Newspapers can be used for wedging in the
Various other techniques are used. People make holders out of wood with PVC
pipe mounted at an angle. There are
caps or corks at the bottom of the pipes.
Others use chicken wire in a 5-gallon pail with water in the
bottom. Still others put the stalks
in bottles, and then lay the bottles down with the stalks resting on the edge
of a cardboard box with "V"s cut into it to hold the stalks in place.
For transporting, SUVs and minivans are ideal, as they
have enough height that you don't have to worry about the stalks hitting the
roof. Cars are more difficult, but
you can put a box with the bottles on the floor, usually at an angle so that
the stalks won't hit the windshield, seat back or roof. Usually, after you have struggled to get
everything loaded, you vow to begin growing more of the shorter, more easily
transported SDBs and IBs. Be very,
very careful driving to the show.
Corners and stop lights are not your friends!
Bring scissors, cotton balls, a sharp knife, Q-tips, a
bottle with extra water and a pen.
Make sure that you get to the show in plenty of time to unload (carefully!),
make out tags, and do any last minute touchups or adjustments. Also remember that for DVIS shows, all
your stalks need to be transferred and repositioned into the club bottles. There will be a lot of hustle and bustle
as people try to get their stalks ready: bottles get positioned on the
tables, carts filled with bottles roll across the floor, and others are
designing arrangements in the corner.
You don't want to be caught short of time. The show committee usually is quite strict as to the cut-off
time, after which no further entries will be accepted. Usually it is around 9:30 a.m., but check
the show schedule to be sure.
Every stalk entered needs a tag filled out. These are
special tags with a bottom section that can be torn off after the
judging. Usually you can get tags
ahead of time at the spring meeting.
This will allow you to fill them out at home, saving time and
aggravation at show time. To fill out
the tag, you will need to know the registered name of your iris, and the type
(tall bearded, Siberian, etc.). You
will also need to know the division and section codes for each stalk. These can be found in the show schedule.
If you are not sure of the name of your
iris, please don't guess. Label it a
mystery iris or unknown, and enter it in the Unidentified Class. It is helpful to have a supply of return
address labels handy, as it is quicker to put a label on than to fill out
your name and address on a whole lot of tags. Make sure that you fill out both the top and bottom portions of
the tag! The bottom portion is folded
up and tucked in so that only the name of the iris and the class show. DVIS uses paper clips to attach the tags
to the bottles. Some clubs use rubber
bands, which go through the hole in the top of the tag then around the bottle
from the bottom so that it hangs around the bottle's neck.
You may only enter one stalk of each variety. A historic tall bearded stalk may be
entered either in the Historic Class or the Tall Bearded Class, but
not both. If entering the Collection
Class (three or more stalks of the same cultivar), however, you may also
enter the same cultivar as an individual stalk.
Your iris stalk is now ready to be placed by the show
committee. Except for the people
assisting the judges, no one is allowed in the area with the stalks once
judging starts. Now is the time to
get coffee and be nervous! After all
judging is finished and the best stalks are moved to the head table, you may
go into the show area and see how well your entries did. But even if you aren't on the head table,
it's still a lot of fun to see all the different entries, and admire all the
irises that you've never seen before.
Write down the names of those you might want to buy. Talk to the other exhibitors and the
judges to find out how you could have prepared your stalks better. And look forward to the next time!