Show Judging Guide

Judging the Shows

The notes below are intended as a guide to what the Judges will be looking for in entries to both the Spring and Summers Shows and will hopefully allow participants to show of their entries to best effect.

But remember, above all else, ‘Showing should be FUN’.

Use the links below to jump to the section of most interest.

1. Jams, Jellies, Curds and Marmalades

 
Preserves are marked on a combination of internal and external standards as follows:

  1. External standard – container, cover, label and appearance
  2. Internal standard – colour, clarity, flavour, consistency, texture of fruit and aroma

The judge will taste the exhibit, with marking given according to flavour / aroma being the biggest percentage of the overall marks.

When there are many entries in a particular class the loss of just one point can make the difference between winning or not. The following will help you to ensure your exhibit has the best possible chance of success:

  • Jars must be clear glass with NO commercial markings, clean, well-polished and free of stickiness and finger marks
  • Jars should be filled to the top
  • All preserves should be labelled with small labels stating the main fruit used together with the day, month and year of making
  • Labels should be plain, neat and straight and of suitable size for the container. Labels should be applied centrally between the seams of the jar and in the lower half of the jar
  • Preserves should be coved with a wax disc and cellophane top

Jams – Typically shown in 375ml. or 1lb. jar

  • Colour should be bright and characteristic
  • No scum or foreign bodies, mould or sugar crystals
  • Fruit evenly distributed, not too many stones
  • Skins tender
  • Consistency ‘jellified’ not runny or sticky, no loose liquid or syrup
  • Flavour full, fresh and characteristic of the fruit

 
Jellies – Typically shown in 190ml. or 8oz. jar

  • Should be brilliantly clear with no pulp, haze or scum
  • Colour should be even, bright and characteristic
  • Consistency should tremble, but hold its shape
  • No air bubbles
  • Flavour true of fruit, full and well balanced

 
Lemon curd – Shown in 375ml. or 1lb. jar

  • Consistency spreadable, but not runny or rough
  • No egg spots, peel, scum, sugar crystals and air bubbles
  • Flavour fresh and well balanced, with no greasy taste

 
Marmalade – Shown in 375ml. or 1lb. jar

  • If peel is included in the preserve, it should be tender and uniformly cut
  • Colour will vary according to type, but bright and characteristic
  • Consistency ‘jellified’, not runny or too firm
  • No air bubbles or scum
  • Flavour slightly bitter, characteristic and true of fruit used

2. Pickles & Chutneys

 
Vinegar preserves are marked on a combination of internal and external standards as follows:-

  1. External standard – container, cover, label and appearance
  2. Internal standard – colour, clarity, flavour, consistency, texture of fruit or vegetables and aroma

 
When there are many entries in a particular class the loss of just one point can make the difference between winning or not.
 
The following will help you to ensure your exhibit has the best possible chance of success:

  • Jars must be clear glass with NO commercial markings, clean, well-polished and free of stickiness and finger marks
  • There should be no air bubbles or scum within the contents
  • Jars should be filled to within 1 cm of the top
  • All preserves should be labelled with small labels stating the main fruit or vegetable used together with the day, month and year of making
  • Labels should be plain, neat and straight and of suitable size for the container. Labels should be applied centrally between the seams of the jar just below shoulder height
  • Chutneys and pickles should be 2-3 months old before exhibiting to allow the flavour to mature
  • For the show, preserves should be coved with a cellophane top

3. Baking

 
Cookery exhibits are marked on a combination of internal and external standards as follows:-

  1. External appearance – colour, shape and uniformity
  2. Internal appearance – texture and the even distribution of ingredients
  3. Flavour – flavour and aroma as entries must be enjoyable to eat

Flavour is paramount. If entries are neck-and-neck, flavour will dictate a winner.
For all entries judges will cut the exhibit to display the inside and will taste to ascertain overall enjoyment.

  • The judge’s first impression will be what it looks like, so try to make your baking look special enough to stand out from the opposition
  • This is the time to use a ruler when you are cutting up your brownies, and arrange neatly on the plate
  • All exhibits should be clean/hygienic
  • Do cover with some cling film to prevent the exhibit drying out
  • Cakes should be well risen, even in shape and baking
  • Ingredients should be well distributed throughout the cake, well mixed and evenly cooked
  • For cakes, texture should be moist, fluffy and velvety, but not undercooked, and a good even texture all through the cake
  • There should be no large air holes within the bake
  • Flavour should be consistent and balanced
  • In general, cakes should have a flat or slightly rounded top. A domed top with slight cracking is acceptable for light fruit cakes
  • Read the schedule carefully to make sure that your entry complies in all components, i.e. size, weight, and numbers in each exhibit as appropriate. If it says a maximum of 20cm for a cake, make sure it measures 20cm or less or you will be disqualified. Likewise, if it says 5 hot cross buns, 4 or 6 won’t do! – You will be disqualified for the wrong number
  • Think about the way your exhibit will be displayed and choose a suitable plain plate. You can use a paper or a china plate of a suitable size
  • Some exhibitors choose to use a doily under sweet entries, such as cakes. This is not essential but does enhance your entry but should only be used for sweet exhibits
  • One point to beware: if you enter a number of cookery classes use different plates as the Judge will know which your entries are if you use one sort of plate

Do give yourself enough time to set up on the day. You want to have time to set up your exhibit attractively and you don’t want to drop or damage anything because you are hurrying.
 

4. Craft, Art and Photography items

 
The judge will be looking at the following:-

In the craft section

  • Materials used – are they appropriate for the item, too heavy, too light, etc?
  • Stitching – colours chosen, is it neat, finished off?
  • Textures – use of interesting textures and a range of textures will catch the eye of the judge
  • Colour – is it pleasant to look at? Do the colours, stitches and any embellishments go together?
  • Finish – the judge will look closely at how your item is finished off – are the stitches neat, the ends sewn in almost invisibly?
  • Originality – for a self-design item, is it a pleasing and original design?
  • Attention to detail – this is what will catch the eye of the judge.  What is special about your item that makes it a bit more eye-catching than everything else on the table?

In the Art section
 
Is the picture:-

  • pleasant to view?
  • well executed?
  • using an appropriate medium for the subject?
  • pictures may be framed or mounted, although they will not be hung up in the hall

In the Photography section
 
Is the picture:-

  • well-constructed?
  • well balanced?
  • in the right focus?
  • reflecting the subject matter effectively?
  • photographs should be mounted but not framed

5. Fruit and Vegetables

 
The RHS Show Handbook is invaluable for seeing how produce should be displayed and how it will be judged. However, you should always read the Alton show schedule very carefully to decide exactly what and how many are required for each entry.
The produce to be entered into the show should be:-

  • the right shape for the produce – not knobbly or misshapen
  • a good colour for the produce, evenly coloured throughout
  • in good condition – fresh, firm, with no signs of pests or disease
  • Uniform – all the same size, shape and colour

Indeed, the sort you would pick out for yourself in the supermarket

  • For leaf veg, try not to cut away too many leaves from the stalk
  • Carefully remove any side-roots, but not the taproot, of any root veg
  • Root vegetables may be washed gently to remove any loose earth
  • Foliage on rhubarb or radishes should be neatly trimmed back to approximately 75mm
  • Peas and beans should always be shown with a short length of stalk attached; be careful not to damage when picking – always hold by the stalk and try not to touch the pod itself so the natural bloom is still there
  • For the “Any other vegetable” class, anything that is not in a class of its own will be fine, so long as you ensure they are all the same size, colour and shape, and are presented neatly on the plate
  • For fruit, it should be the correct ripeness for the variety and season, and all at the same degree of ripeness
  • Try to avoid touching any fruit; hold by the stalk when picking, and do not wash it, as the natural bloom should be intact on the show bench

So if you can find 5 perfect potatoes or 6 perfect strawberries, all the same size, colour and shape, you’ll be well in there. If you can put them onto a plate so someone will say “now, there is an attractive dish of potatoes/strawberries”, you should certainly catch the judges eye!
 

6. Flowers

 
The RHS Show Handbook is invaluable for seeing how flowers should be displayed and how they will be judged. However, you should always read the Alton show schedule very carefully to decide exactly what and how many are required for each entry.
 
Follow the rules – if the schedule calls for five specimens, do not enter four or six.

  • Where single (specimen) blooms are required, mostly roses, remove any unwanted side shoots or buds to aid the development of the main flowers
  • Check for unwanted buds when staging your exhibit. All buds are considered to be blooms
  • Cut for the show the previous evening or early morning when the flowers are cool and not affected by heat
  • Cut flower stems as long as possible with a sloping cut to assist uptake of water and, if possible, place in cool water ‘up to their necks’ overnight and away from bright light
  • Exclude light but don’t squash the flowers. It is best to do this the night before the show as it can encourage the blooms to expand
  • Pot plants: turn frequently to avoid lopsided growth and water as necessary to make sure the plants are fresh for the show
  • Generally speaking flowers and foliage should all be clean and free from disease and insect damage. Where possible choose vases to suit the height of the stems. You will need to bring enough vases for all your exhibits. There are a limited number of Bikini Vases available on the day, but be prepared for there to be none left
  • Protect your exhibits well on the way to the hall – it’s amazing how much they roll around in a car even at 5mph!
  • Arrive at the hall in plenty of time to stage your exhibits.  If you are rushed mistakes can occur and an exhibit may be disqualified for being ‘Not According to Schedule’
  • Make sure the container is full of water. A small watering can is useful to top up the vases
  • Take some marbles or glass beads as this helps to hold stems in position
  • Pay particular attention to the number of specimens required. Take spares with you in case of accidents, and always do a final check before leaving
  • When staging flowers, remove any damaged flowers and leaves and re-cut the stem
  • A final spray with clean water will help to keep the blooms fresh; it can get very warm in the hall

Mixed Flowers and other Cut Flower Classes (Roses, Sweet Peas, etc):-

  • Choose exhibits that are in good condition, that is, when they are at their most perfect and all parts are fresh and free from damage due to weather, pests, diseases, careless handling, etc
  • In vases of one kind of flower, choose exhibits that are the most uniform, that is, when they are most alike in age, size and form

Pot plants including Cacti and Succulents:-

  • Pots or containers should be clean and undamaged
  • Check pot is clean with no slugs underneath, no dead leaves on the soil and the leaves dust free, insect free and undamaged
  • Any staking should be neat and should not detract from the appearance of the plant
  • The exhibit should be large for the particular type of plant, well-balanced in shape and in good health
  • Plants should have healthy unblemished foliage (and flowers in the flowering plant classes)
  • Cacti/succulents should be as free as possible from defects, including damaged or missing spines, distorted bodies or leaves, abnormal marks, etc

Floral Arrangements:-
 
Make sure you interpret the title of the class you are entering and use appropriate plant material for that class.

  • Keep within the measurements allowed – the judges do measure!
  • Condition your plant material thoroughly, i.e. gather foliage 24 hours beforehand and stand foliage and flowers in buckets of cool water in a cool place
  • Ensure your plant material is in peak condition and there are no damaged leaves or blooms
  • Stakes, wires etc. are fine as long as they are neat and do not look ugly

The RHS ‘The Horticultural Show Handbook’ suggests “Beauty of form and colour, lightness of arrangement, happy harmonies or suitable contrasts always meet with general approval.  The use of suitable foliage, berries, fruits and seed pods, and accessories may be desirable and permitted or required by the schedule.”