Showing And Judging
New to Showing? - Here are some hints to get you started.
Read the Show Schedule and the rules carefully. Note down exactly what is required for each class you plan to enter. There may be restrictions on size, weight or colour of produce and each class will state exactly how many specimens are required. If you don't comply with the rules you will get the dreaded NAS card (not according to Schedule) and your entry will be disqualified. If you need to submit your entry form before the Show day, make sure you do so. Harvest your produce as near to Show day as possible so that it is in peak condition. Clean and prepare produce carefully so as to remove soil but not destroy things like roots if they are required to be shown still attached.
When you visit Shows, make a note of how the winning exhibits are displayed and what varieties of produce do well. For example, classes for stump-rooted carots are nearly always won by the variety Sweet Candle which has all the qualities needed for showing. Pack your exhibits carefully in your car so that they are not damaged in transit to the Show. Vegetables can be wrapped in (damp) cloths or protected with sponge or newspaper. Flowers travel well if inserted individually in bottles held upright in old milk crates. If display materials such as vases and plates are not provided, make sure you take what you will need with you. Paper plates are usually satisfactory; two piece 'bikini' vases are made of plastic or metal alloy and stack easily for transit and storage and can be bought online but any simple or plain vase will usually suffice. You will also need a pen, scissors/knife, cloths, oasis and a water jug/can if you are exhibiting flowers.
Allow plenty of time to stage your exhibits. It always takes longer than you think and the Show Schedule has strict timings allowed for entries. Ensure that you stage your entries in the correct class. If there appears to be no more space availaible in your class then ask a steward to re-arrange the spacing in order to accommodate your exhibit. Do not touch anyone else's exhibit - the steward will do this, if necessary.
Judging is made against an 'ideal' standard such as those established by Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) or National Vegetable Society (NVS). Stating the variety adds interest for Show visitors but also informs the judge what your exhibit should look like which is important if you are showing an unusual type.
Sometimes exhibits are sold or auctionned off at the end of a Show. If your exhibits are not intended for sale then make sure they are clearly marked not for sale and remove them as soon as possible after the Show is over.
If you are fortunate to win a trophy then please look after it and keep it safe until the due return date the following year. Silver and silver plated items will oxidise and turn brown over time. Minor tarnishing can be removed by washing the affected item in soapy water with a non-abrasive cloth and then polishing it dry. If the item is badly tarnished then use a silver polish BUT please do read the manufacturer's instructions first! Exhibitors winning any of the Show trophies are solely responsible for engraving them at their own cost, should they wish to do so. The Committee will periodically examine all trophies for general condition and capacity for further engraving and will replace plain banding as appropriate.
For more information, consult:
The Horticultural Show Handbook (8th Ed, 2016) produced by the Royal Horticultural Society and covers the judging of fruit, vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants, gardens and allotments, hanging baskets and outdoor-planted containers according to RHS judging criteria. This publication also offers useful hints to exhibitors, judges and show organisers. Further details can be obtained from RHS Enterprises Ltd, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB - www.rhs.org.uk
Getting Started on the Showbench and The Judge's Guide are two useful publications available from National Vegetable Society, National Secretary, 36 The Ridings, Ockbrook, Derby DE72 3SF - www.nvsuk.org.uk
The following selection of hints refers to the exhibition of vegetables under RHS rules. (RHS and NVS rules follow similar criteria but there are some areas of difference and you should check the Show Schedule to see which organisation's rules are applicable)
Ensure that all produce is clean, fresh, free from pest and disease damage and meets the number of specimens required to be staged. Try not to mix small and large specimens and remember that 'biggest' is not always 'best'. Include the name of the variety wherever possible. The class may call for a 'dish' or 'plate' of whatever vegetable is named. A 'dish' is an exhibit of produce comprising one variety only. A paper plate is usually satisfactory for displaying most items of produce but, if the Schedule states a specific size of dish/plate or tray, make sure your exhibit complies.
Beans, French and Runner should be long, straight, shapely, fresh and tender, of good colour with no outward signs of seeds in the pods. Stalks should be attached. One or more pods may be snapped by the judge to assess condition.
Cabbages should have fresh solid heads with outer leaves intact. All foliage should be clean with natural bloom intact. Roots are normally trimmed to about 75mm. Any type may be exhibited unless otherwise specified.
Carrots, Beetroot, Parsnips and Turnips should be smooth-skinned and well-coloured throughout their length. Beetroot and turnips may be cut by the judge to assess flesh colour and disease. Roots should be intact (but side hair-roots may be carefully removed). Foliage should be trimmed to approximately 75mm.
Cauliflowers, Calabrese and Broccoli should have solid curds with even heads. Foliage should be trimmed back evenly and neatly to expose the curd. Roots are normally trimmed to approximately 75mm.
Celery should be large, well-blanched and crisp. Foliage should be attached and roots trimmed back to the root plate.
Courgettes should be tender with uniform shape and colour. Optimum length is 150mm. Courgettes may be shown with or without the flower still attached.
Cucumbers should be fresh, tender and straight. They should be uniform in thickness and colour with short handles.
Leeks should have firm white, straight, non-bulbous barrels and foliage should be turgid. Roots should be washed but not trimmed.
Marrows should be young and less than 350mm in length.
Onions and Shallots should be dressed (roots/foliage removed and the necks tied with natural raffia) with clean, unbroken well-ripened skins free from ribbing or discoloration. Try to ensure that all bulbs are matched for size and shape.
Potatoes should be unblemished, of good shape and with shallow eyes. Optimum weight is 200-250g. White potatoes should have no colour on the skin (including eyes). Potatoes showing full or partly coloured skin should be exhibited in the Other than white/Coloured potato class.
Sweet Corn should have fresh, well-formed cobs with a good eeven grain set and good tip fill. Cobs should be staged with the silks attached and peeled open to 1/4 of of their width.
Tomatoes should be ripe, unblemished and well-shaped. Optimum size is 60mm diameter for standard varieties and not more than 35mm for small-fruited varieties. Calyces should be fresh.
Apples, Pears, Plums and Cherries should be of optimum size for the variety, shapely with eyes and stalks intact and with clear, unbroken skins of natural colour characteristic of the cultivar. Bloom, where present, should be intact.
Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries and Currants should be large, ripe, of good colour, free from blemishes, in good condition and with stalks attached.
Any Other Fruit should be presented with stalks attached. Ensure that the natural bloom, where present, is maintained.
A vase is defined as a vessel for displaying cut flowers in water and having a height greater than the diameter of its mouth. Flowers are judged on the quality of blooms. All cut flowers ahould be staged in water but floral foam (oasis), or other packing material may be used to hold blooms in place.
Some vegetables are more difficult to grow to perfection than others. There is a 'league table' of vegetables which states the number of points they are worth when exhibited. This only really matters when staging a collection of vegetables where the judge will award marks for each type against the maximum that the vegetable in question attracts. For example, the judge may award 12/20 for a potato of only fair quality and 11/12 for a near perfect radish. However, the prize will go to the exhibit gaining most points and the 'fair' potato will beat the 'excellent' radish. You should therefore try to include as many high-pointed vegetables as possible. in your collection.
The following is the RHS list of vegetable maximum points values:
Beans - For shelling 15
Beetroot - Globe 15
Beetroot - Long 20
Broad Beans 15
Broccoli - Spears 15
Brussel Sprouts 15
Calabrese - Heads 15
Carrots - Long 20
Carrots - Stump-rooted 18
Celery - Blanched 20
Chilli Peppers 15
Cucumbers - Outdoor 15
French Beans 15
Onions - Large 20
Onions - under 250g 15
Onions - Salad 12
Runner Beans 18
Shallots - Large 18
Shallots - Pickling 15
Squash - Winter 10
Sweet Corn 18
Tomatoes - Standard 18
Tomatoes - Small 12
Click here and here to view or download the original printed document.
Showing vegetables can be great fun and a means of comparing your efforts against those of your fellow competitors but there are certain rules which need to be followed. The Show Schedule will usually specify basic rules such as staging times, entry fees, whether plates for staging will be provided and any restrictions imposed on the number of entries that may be staged. The NVS Judges' Guide forms the essential reference work for vegetable exhibitor and Judge alike but join our group and you will learn a lot more.
One Flower and One Vegetable is a very popular class
with exhibitors. At some Shows, this class may also be
extended to One Flower, One Vegetable and One Fruit
Shallots must pass through a ring of a certain size,
(currently 30mm under NVS rules) in order to qualify
for pickling shallot class status
Shallots are usually staged on a dish of dry sand for
best effect. Do not use wet sand otherwise you may find
that roots will start to grow!
Great care is taken with handling and staging exhibits
and, especially, in protecting them from damage whilst
in transit to and from the Show
Show day begins with the Show Secretary
- a very important job
Olly the Onion is the mascot of East Yorkshire
District Association and attends every Show
Judges will examine leek barrels and foliage to ensure that
they are undamaged and show no signs of seed head formation
Top quality beetroot should not be woody or coarse. Globe Beetroot
may be cut by the Judge to examine the colour and condition of the
flesh although NVS Judges are advised not to cut any beetroot,
especially Long varieties. A contentious issue for some, perhaps,
especially since colour is one of the judging criteria scored
Judges weigh individual bulbs to ensure that they do not
exceed the 250g maximum size stipulated for this particular
Size, shape, condition and uniformity are all
important factors when judging a set of onions
Celery is prone to heart rot and seed head formation.
The Judges have cut the raffia used by the exhibitor to
bind the celery stalks together in order to check inside
The dreaded NAS (Not According to Schedule) card
awarded by the Judge for an exhibit that does not
conform to the Show Schedule requirements. In this case,
one bulb exceeded the 30mm maximum diameter
stipulated for the small (pickling) shallot class
The Judge's score card for the winning Collection of 4 Vegetables
- one of each kind. Note that cucumber and stump-rooted carrot
are scored out of 18 rather than 20 points maximum. A risky
strategy for the exhibitor but sometimes there is no choice if other
crops fail to produce Show-quality specimens
The second-placed entry in the same vegetable collection
class. Note that, even though four vegetables each with
20 point values were staged, the quality of some was
judged to be inferior and consequently downpointed
The winning entry for a Collection of 4 Vegetables
- one of each kind, as scored above
Exhibition celery should be clean and bright with no
evidence of slug damage or dreaded 'heart rot'
A Collection of Vegetables - one of each kind is often the
premier class at any Show and one which every exhibitor
would like to win
Exhibits should always be clearly labelled with the
exhibitor's number and class number. In some cases,
the Show Schedule rules require the name of the
individual varieties staged to be identified as well
A fine red cabbage specimen will nearly always win a
'One Cabbage' class but try to preserve the 'bloom' by
handling it as little as possible before staging
Cauliflowers and potatoes are normally covered to
exclude light for as long as possible and to prevent
'greening' on hot sunny Show days
Runner beans are normally kept flat and straight overnight
in damp cloth before staging on Show day
Matching a pair of cauliflowers for uniform
size and shape is very difficult
Selecting a recognised 'Show' variety is critical.
Note that the outdoor 'ridge' variety of cucumber
has not won a prize in this class
Stump-rooted carrots should have a pronounced round,
rather than tapered, end to the body otherwise they will
be downpointed by the Judge
Table Dainty is a popular variety of Show marrow.
Big is not always beautiful - Show marrows should
be not more than 400mm (15") in length
Five Potatoes - other than white is a common Show class.
This Show-winning variety is called Kestrel
The 'novice' collection class is normally reserved
for exhibitors who have never won a first prize in
the open section of our Show
A black base cloth is normally used to provide maximum
colour contrast effect. Sometimes, parsley is used as a
garnish to add extra colour and textural contrast
Judging is a very important role and should be carried
out by experienced growers who are qualified to judge to NVS standards
The Steward plays a very important role in assisting
both the Judge and the Show Secretary
A Taproot Collection class. Long beetroot, like parsnips, are worth a maximum of 20 points but, as a result of new Society guidance, are not cut by NVS Judges
Stump-rooted carrots should show a definite round
stump at the root end. Only the right-hand carrot
of these three shows proper definition
This carrot has been heavily downpointed because it shows
evidence of 'greening' on the shoulders where it has been
exposed to the light whilst growing. The
leaf stalks should be cut
as late as possible in order to maintain
freshness and to avoid
A basket of vegetables is judged on the three criteria
of quality, variety and presentation of produce
Peppers, though botanically a fruit, are regarded as
vegetables for showing purposes. Rhubarb, though
basically a leaf stalk and normally used as a fruit for
culinary purposes, is also regarded as a vegetable
for showing purposes
The Top Tray class is sponsored by a National Seed
supplier with medals and prize vouchers and is fiercely
The equivalent Top Vase class attracts some fine entries as well
Clearly, a man who knows his onions. Not only winning
first prize in this class but also the NVS Silver Medal for
most meritorius exhibit in the whole Show
Trophies are awarded for best exhibit in a particular
class or most points in a section and prize money is normally
given for exhibits gaining 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in each
class. Note the Bronze Onion trophy which has been cast from
exhibitor's former prize-winning onion. We believe this to be
This class calls for Three Carrots (type unspecified).
Note that the 3 carrots on the left, though quite
short-bodied, are considered long-pointed carrots and
would not score highly in a class specifically for
This class calls for "5 a Day" - One each
of 5 different fruits and/or vegetables.
Rhubarb can be entered (as a vegetable)
but the judge has had to use discretion and
select a single specimen of some of the fruits
staged in order to help the competitor comply
with the class wording and assist the judging
Any Other Fruit- sometimes a difficult class to judge when you
are faced with three pears against a single peach! Note that the
judge has removed the peach foliage from the fruit and has also
selected a single pear in order to provide uniformity in the
Corn should be well-ripened and fully-formed to the tip of the husk
when well-grown. The kernels should also be similar in size and
appear in neat straight rows and columns