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All About Flower Shows

Let’s Grow to Show and Show to Grow

Why have a Flower Show?

  • To educate
  • To stimulate interest in horticulture
  • To provide a venue for creative expression
  • To encourage community participation
  • To provide a competition in which all members can participate

How to Organize a Show

To organize a Show, please contact one of your local judges. Judges possess a wealth of useful information and experience on how to set up a show, write a schedule and help coach people to enter and have fun exhibiting.

We also have a great reference book Ontario Judging and Exhibiting Standards (OJES 2019). This book tells exhibitors what a judge is looking for when judging a flower show’s floral designs and horticultural specimens (cut flowers, vegetables, potted plants, terrariums and trough gardens etc.). It includes everything you need to know about staging a flower show, and how to prepare your entries. The rules and guidelines in this book will be used by the judge to assess the quality of exhibits and the awarding of prizes. OJES 2019 is available for purchase from the OHA Supplies Coordinator. You can also check with a local judge as they will certainly have a copy.

Briefly, a Show includes flowers, plants, fruit, vegetables, floral designs and special exhibits. The objectives of a Show are to: educate, stimulate interest in horticulture, provide a venue for creative expression, encourage community participation and have a project in which all members can participate. You may want to just start out with a mini show (just a few classes) at one of your meetings. How about a Veggie Mini show at a Fall meeting to show off some of the popular veggies that are in season? Or what about a mini Houseplant show in April? What about taking a road trip to see a show in your District? Check with other local societies and go see a show in person. Invite a local Judge to present a talk on how to exhibit in a show or give a demonstration on floral designs and special exhibits. We encourage societies to try and have a Standard Flower Show with at least two divisions, which must include one Horticultural and one Design Division. You just need a few people with an interest in gardening and a willingness to help with ideas for a show.

The key is to have fun!

Things you need to think about

The Show Committee: These individuals can help with the organizing. Don’t forget to involve local judges and members with experience in showing. Check with your District Director for suggestions.

Writing a Schedule and Rules: Once the date, location and theme have been set, preparing the schedule to conform to the season is the first and most important organizational task. Efforts should be made to have the Show conform to Ontario Judging and Exhibiting Standards for Horticulture and Floral Design.

Selecting a Judge: The choice of judges is based on their training, qualifications and experience. It is unwise to invite the same judge(s) to perform in successive Shows. A minimum interval should be established. Check the Judges List here on the web site to find local Judges

Awards: What kind of awards do you think best fit? Ribbons, certificates and cash prizes are options to consider. Donations and/or prizes received from the business community and from private donors should be publicly acknowledged.

Your show schedule should be clear and easy to read and yet be specific enough that people know what to enter and how.


Our newsletters provide the latest information on upcoming flower shows, where to find available judges, and other issues of interest. Let the committee know if there is a topic you would like to see covered or if you have a question you would like addressed in a future issue. Send us an email here.

Answers to Your Queries + Quandaries

How do you judge a “children’s” arrangement when it looks very much like an adult has done most of it?

This is a very difficult question. You don’t want to discourage children who have done all the work themselves, but you also don’t want to be accusing a child of getting too much help. As with adults, if it is on the table and was passed by the passing committee then you have to judge it. There is no easy way other than to have a quiet word with the Show Chair afterwards.

How do I judge a design with artificial flowers or foliage?

Read the schedule carefully. If it is permitted in the rules then you judge based on the principles and elements. If the schedule indicates no artificial or says follow OJES 2019 then you would have to disregard the design but add a very kind comment that lets them know that either the schedule and/or OJES 2019 does not permit artificial materials. Some fairs do have a section for a design done with artificial flowers and, here again, the elements and principles apply just like a design with live plant materials.

How do you judge a sunflower seed head?

It is a horticultural specimen and should be viewed as a Vegetable and or Fruit—One entry with scale of points—Condition 40 Form and Color 30 Size typical of cultivar 20 Distinction 10.

Once a judge has made a decision, it has been recorded by the clerk, ribbon placed, and the winner announced would it be unethical for the judge to change their mind the next day and change the prize list?

Yes, it would be unethical and unprofessional. As a Judge you need to carefully make a choice and once that choice has been recorded and announced, you should not change your decision.

In the ‘Any other Perennials Class’, would the following specimens be entered: Hydrangea, Spirea, Butterfly Bush, and a bedraggled Heliopsis? Are Hydrangea, Spirea, and Butterfly Bush considered Perennials?

Hydrangea, Spirea, and Butterfly Bush are all shrubs. A shrubs is defined as a woody perennial plant. So yes, they are perennial. You would also have to look carefully at the schedule to make sure there was no other class such as Flowering Shrub that they should have been entered in. Often an ‘Any Other Perennial class’ is listed as ‘Any Other Perennial’ (not listed above).

Should Clerks be talking while judging is ongoing?

OJES 2019 Page 18 indicates that clerks should not offer advice or unwanted information and should not follow judges too closely unless invited. The Show Chair or designate should be available. If a clerk is distracting, you politely ask them to stay back a bit and refrain from comment as it distracts you from giving full attention to your job at hand. A quiet word with the Show Chair afterwards may help in making sure the clerk does not distract in the future.

When Judging scented Roses, how do you prevent scents from overcoming your sense of smell and making it difficult to select?

Bring a few coffee beans in your pocket and smell them between the different entries. It helps to clear your nose.

Ontario Judging and Exhibiting Standards for Floral Design and Horticulture (OJES) Revised 2019 Edition Available Now!

OJES 2019 is a reference publication that covers a variety of topics related to the organization and running of a flower show. It includes schedule writing, information on classes of plants to include, and the standards regarding judging of horticultural specimens and floral designs. It addresses everything you need to know about staging a flower show and preparing your entries. The rules and guidelines in this book will be used by the judge to assess the quality of exhibits and the awarding of prizes. This publication is a joint effort of the OHA and GCO. OJES 2019 is used by Judges as a reference when they judge and is a training book for new judges. OJES 2019 can be ordered from the OHA Garden Shop

For a look at what’s new, please click here.

Judging Forms and Applications

Please check the Resources Page for our Judging Committee Forms and Applications

OHA Judges List

For a list of all OHA-certified and otherwise-certified judges please search our Judges List. If you have questions about judging or the judges list, please email us.

To access judging forms and applications, please see our resource library under Shows and Judging


Upcoming OHA Judges Schools and Updates

Listed below are contacts and dates for Judges Schools & Updates:

  1. D4, Update, Sept. 14, 2019 in Grafton. Contact Bev Silk
  2. D16, Update, Oct. 4, 2019 in Barrie. Contact: Tracy Bosley
  3. GCO Hort. School, 1st session: Oct. 8-10, 2019 at Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. Contact: Heinke Thiessen
  4. D19, School: Apr., Aug., Oct. 2020. Contact Rose Odell

About the Judging Committee

The OHA Judging Committee provides guidance and support to the OHA to ensure sustainability and succession planning associated with judging and judges. The Committee is made up of the Chair, selected members, the Judging School/Updates Coordinator, and the Judges Registrar.

Ontario Judging Committee Contact List

Contact the Committee at: ohajudges@gmail.com

Chair: Penny Stewart

Members: Marg Laman, Kathryn Lindsay, Sharon Nivins, and Jim Mabee

Judges Registrar: Sharon Nivins

Judging School/Updates: Jim Mabee

The Committee is responsible for

  • ensuring consistency in the training, updating and use of OHA judges across Ontario;
  • guiding and supporting the work of the OHA Judging School/Updates Coordinator;
  • guiding and supporting the work of the OHA Judges Registrar in maintaining and promoting the OHA Judges Registry; and
  • providing guidance on judging best practices (e.g. registry of Q&As).

It maintains contact with other organizations involved in similar work (e.g. Garden Clubs of Ontario, Royal Botanical Gardens, and Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies).

Judges Learning Library

The OHA encourages districts to work with our Judging Committee and our Judging School/Updates Coordinator to offer Judging Updates to help judges stay current. All documents are in pdf format.

Judges Comment Writing   |  Judges Ethics & Etiquette  |  Judges, How to Exhibit  |  Judges Show Schedules

Have a Question about Flower Shows or Judging? Email us!