AOS News – December 2014

AOS JUDGING – What is all the fuss about?
Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 in the January newsletter).

I’ve seen plants lined up on a table at our Sonoma County Orchid Society (SCOS) Spring Show and know an American Orchid Society (AOS) judging has occurred, but I don’t really get it. What is an Award of Merit or other some such award, and why does one plant get it, but the other plant down the row, which to my uneducated eye is much prettier, doesn’t get any kind of award at all! Are the judges’ blind or do they just possess poor taste?!?!

As usual, when I have these kinds of questions I find myself snooping about, looking for answers. Here’s what I found out.

Anyone who has ever seen dogs or cows judged, or entered something they made themselves in a local fair has experienced the judging process. It is no different for orchids. The judging process is done to evaluate new and superior forms of orchid species and hybrids and recognize those people who have exhibited superior culture. So I guess that means only experienced or commercial growers would ever want to enter or attend a judging contest, right? Not so.

As a hobbyist, you may feel you know nothing compared to the brains running the show. Here’s one place judging can benefit and educate you. Just like the quilt that took you a year to make in your basement and entered in last year’s fair, your orchid might look pretty great to you, but you are just a beginner. So learn something about it from an expert for free by entering it in a judging!

A few weeks ago SCOS member Angelique Fry decided she wanted to observe an AOS orchid judging event. Angelique heard the Napa Valley Orchid Society had arranged for AOS judges to come to their regular meeting to perform a judging. Napa Valley was encouraging their members and those from other societies to submit plants. It cost nothing to enter and only required some minor paperwork.

I asked Angelique to share her experience with me. She said two panels of judges had come to judge the plants at the request of the Society. Each panel consisted of two experienced, accredited judges and a probationary judge. One student judge acted as clerk. Another accredited judge ran the projector, which had access to a database (AQplus, which can be purchased by individuals via the AOS website) which contains the best examples of previously judged plants for comparison. The accredited judges were fun, personable, friendly and educational. The probationary judges tried to stay out of trouble.

People from Napa and other societies brought about 12 plants to be judged. They filled out their paperwork then sat back to see what the judges would say about their plants. The judges reviewed all the entries and then REJECTED ALL BUT THREE for judging. What?!?!?

Rejection can happen for numerous reasons, some of them quite minor. The goal is to find the best example of a plant that represents the gold standard. If a plant brought in for judging is too immature, has flowers not yet open, has flowers that have been open too long, hasn’t been staked correctly, has bug damage or any other problem items, the judges don’t judge the plant. They already know the one in the database is a better example at that time and they don’t want to judge a plant unfairly if it’s not at its peak. Once a plant is judged, it can’t be judged again until something new happens, such as a new spray of flowers or the plant gets more mature. By disqualifying the plant before it is judged, the plant can leave the event without a black mark on its reputation, and can be judged another day when the timing is right.

Stay tuned for the continuation of the judging process, which will appear in the January Newsletter