For me the event began on the 4th of July. As usual, I was behind schedule, so I planted plants and watered the garden all morning and into the afternoon. I then loaded up the Jeep to head north and was excited to have a “working vacation” for the rest of the week!! Woohoo!!
It’s not the kind of working vacation where I’m paid to go though. For me at least, this is more a continuing education as a horticulturist and it was important for me to learn as much as I could since I’m a chapter president too. I needed some guidance! I mean, I always do, right? The work really involved getting all of those plants to the sale while they still looked great. We wanted our goods to go to market and we wanted people to WANT them. I mean that’s what this is all about. WANT!!
We also earned some money by being a local chapter that grew a lot of plants for the sale. We weren’t sure if they’d sell, but we took the call to propagate seriously and I wanted any funds back that I could earn to pay for the whole thing. (Yes, going to a convention is NOT cheap but you can do it if you plan wisely and share travel and hotel costs with a friend or two.)
To improve as a grower, and just out of curiosity, I decided to sign up for judging school. In all honestly, I’m thrilled that I did! While I’ve grown and cleaned many crops of plants at both nurseries, I’ve not yet grown to “show” and it’s a thing.
Lots of houseplant folks do this so that they can impress others online, but I think it means a lot more to have the guts to show in public. I enjoy competition, but I like for it to be fair, and I don’t think that social media or the internet is fair at all. A flower show, well, it can be if you know what you’re doing. Anybody can do it.
Culturally, it’s not something we seem to enjoy as much out here on the west coast, but I wish we could get more into it. I ended up just seeing the whole things as one of my favorite philosophical exercises.v”What is the Platonic ideal form of this plant?” It was not nearly as bad as I had expected it would be, and in truth, I had a lot of fun. By questions the plants, there was a lot of discussion about how plants grow, and that just tickled this horticulturist’s little soil-encrusted heart.
Good thing I met folks from the other chapters too so maybe I can join a show in Seattle or San Francisco sometime. That is the rough part about being accepted as a student judge. I have to participate to do and learn more.
Learning to follow the sheets for the different categories was an important practice run too. I’m so glad we did this and went over our sheets with the entire judging group so as to discuss different points. Being in person doing so was a huge help.
After that second session I took a test later in the day but I still don’t if I passed. I hope so! Even so, if I did, I will only be a student judge and I will have that status for a few years. (I plan to take the same class in Atlanta at the end of September at the Begonia Society convention too. Seems only fitting to compare how the two different groups do it.)
Back in the room I saw that there were two plants from another member of our group that I wanted to keep to buy. The one on the left is a Gloxinia perennis and the one on the left is a Kohleria hybrid developed by Derek Johnson now name Kohleria ‘Hummingbird Feather’. (More on them below.)
I kept taking flat after flat down to the plant sale room since that’s the big draw at the end of the week for participants as well as the public a day later. It was a relief once that was all wrapped up.
The next day I took a break in the afternoon to relax a bit and calm down. I went for a walk to see the W. W. Seymour Conservatory in Wright Park. It had been closed for renovations the last few times I’d been in the area so it was a lot of fun to see it open again. I even bought myself some jewelry to support their program. I just couldn’t stand the thought of buying a plant at that point. I really don’t need any more.
Part of the convention is also networking and sharing stories about what you grow, where you grow, and who you are and what floats your boat. This part if fun for me. I love people if they’re nice, so I met lots of folks! (Turns out lots of plant geeks are super nice.)
Some of them I’ve only seen online, and I made several new friends from the Puget Sound chapter so I’m excited that we can join forces soon. I don’t know what that will look like, but I like the idea of us sharing resources and maybe having a combined show and/or sale.
On Thursday my friend Evan joined me and before we knew it we were plant show participants. A friend had seen the plants I’d kept in my room and he said they were “show quality” plants. Well, honestly, that was good to know. I had no idea.
Then another friend said that they’d like more entries, so I mentioned I might have some.
Well, it turns out, that was a great idea! Evan and I learned the process of cleaning and trimming the plants to make them look perfect, and Derek, the actual grower and hybridizer of one of the plants, was given some much deserved credit for his skills.
We had to wait though to find out. Judging occurs the day after the plants are entered, and the awards are not announced right away.
The sale came next on Thursday but it was late at night. This photo only shows half of the room! Of the many flats I brought up to the convention, I came home with only 1/2 a flat left. I was thrilled we did so well.
I was also thrilled to have spent so much money buying a lot more plants to divide and sell and also to share with our chapter. I really hope that we can begin to have a regular plant sale somewhere in town. It would be so nice to have a set regular schedule and routine for the group again. These last few years have been rough but Zoom has been good for the group nationally.
On Friday Evan and I went to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to see the gardens but I will post about it separately. That day was quite a lot of fun, but a bit off topic for the conference.
Another benefit was having a McMenamins up the street from the hotel. While I loved where we stayed, my mast cell activation disease and asthma did not like the fragrance that they poured into the lobby. This meant that I could not socialize in the bar and going into the lobby meant running through it as quickly as possible.
I also cannot buy hotel food made in a banquet facility. My black pepper allergy makes that a serious crap shoot so I brought a lot of my own food with me and I supplemented it up the street at the pub. (I also had Japanese food a few times to round out my diet.)
On our second trip to McMenamins we knew we’d won something, and we tried to eat and run, but we returned to the awards banquet a bit late. In the end, it didn’t matter. No matter what, the three of us had won 2 blue ribbons for the plants.
Having known Derek for several years now, it means a lot to me to be a mentor and a student of his. I know talent, and I also know that many of us need to lift others up in horticulture when we see talent occurring. It happened to me, it still happens to me, and it’s what I need to do when I see it near me as well. Derek works with me, Evan used to work at Cistus Nursery, so in a weird way this was also a Team Cistus win. Heck, even Evan helps me all the time with ID work and others topics that we talk through. I am so happy that others there helped us to help Derek. The whole thing was just so amazing and it could not have happened any other way.
Then we stayed late and kept buying plants until the plant sale ended. We helped to clean it up. We met more people. We talked to more friends. Then we went our separate ways and drove home…
Of course I’m skipping a lot. I came home feeling revived, rejuvenated, and like I have a better understanding of what my role should be as a chapter president. I feel better supported too. Networking helped me to better know the folks I need to reach out to when I have questions. I kind of came out of nowhere when I stepped up to lead our chapter, and as of right now, no one else wants the job so I will keep at it until another volunteer wants to swap with me. Boy, I bet I am really selling you on membership right now.
So in closing, I still very much believe in plant societies that meet in person and which are the good old-fashioned ones. Why? Well, they really do have conservation and educational interests. There are people involved from many fields, and it’s a group effort, not just a pseudo celebrity influencer that I’m sitting and listening to as their captive audience, a number, a follower, just another passive number.
While there were not many horticulturists, there were more of us than I’d thought there would be, and we had a few professors. Most were hobbyists, but it was a community that felt a lot more like it had some purpose and direction with people coming from different parts of the country.
It was a ton of fun, and yes, if you’re wondering, you’ll likely find me there next year in Virginia.