Energizing an Orchid Show with User-Friendly Touches
THERE IS MUCH TO BE LEARNED from helping to organize and put on an orchid show, but perhaps as much or more may be gleaned from attending one. Orchid shows can be exciting events, but there is no question that some do it better than others and it is not the size of the show that matters, it is the attention to detail. I recently attended a show that might serve as an example.
It was actually a stroke of luck that I knew about this orchid show at all. A fellow orchid grower had mentioned it to me in casual conversation. I wondered why there had not been posters or fliers at the area nurseries and garden centers that I visit at least twice a month. I think I would have even noticed an announcement that was prominently posted at my grocery store.
I like to get to the shows early so I can enjoy the exhibits before the largest crowds assemble and can have an early opportunity at the orchid sales tables. I invited a couple of friends to join me for the outing (one a relative newcomer to the world of orchids) and we made plans for an early start on the first day of the show.
Although I thought I had allowed plenty of time to arrive by the hour I had been told that the doors would open, I found myself a bit lost as we neared the site. It certainly would have helped if the society had posted a bit of signage on main streets near the site or at least had put a banner up at the entrance door of the rather nondescript facility where it took place.
WE ARRIVE As it turned out, the delay in our arrival did not make much difference. The judging of flowers and exhibits was scheduled for the early morning hours of the show’s opening day and was still in progress when we arrived. Those in charge decided not to open the doors to the public until all judging was finished and they had time to make final preparation of the room. My friends and I got to stand around for about 20 minutes while these activities concluded. We used the time to catch up on each other’s lives.
Eventually the doors to the hall opened. There was a modest admission fee for the show, which we were happy to pay. The cashier’s line moved slowly, however, because nearly every person had to be told the price of admission. Posting that information would have enabled each attendee to have the money ready, which surely would have speeded up the process.
Even with the delay of opening, the crowds were not too large when we finally found ourselves on the exhibit floor. Perhaps word about the show had indeed not leaked out. A few of the other early birds headed straight for the sales tables but my friends and I opted to take some time to enjoy the orchid displays, which were mostly tabletop exhibits. They were all beautiful, although, as one might expect, some were more outstanding than others.
As we crossed the room, I unexpectedly fell to my knees when I tripped over an extension cord that was snaking from the wall to a table toward the middle of the room. Fortunately, only my pride was injured, but as I gathered myself up I wondered why the cord had not been secured with tape or covered by mats to make the situation safer. There seemed to be no one around to whom I could express my concern, so we moved on.
THE DISPLAYS My novice orchid-grower friend aspires to produce enough quality orchids to one day be able to assemble her own exhibit, so we spent some time analyzing their various strengths and weaknesses. As we began to study them more closely it became easier to appreciate why some of them were more outstanding than others.
It soon became clear that a winning exhibit is more than beautiful high-quality flowers. Thoughtful staging, color flow and design are essential to win the top awards. The judicious use of additional foliage adds shape and fullness to a good display and helps accentuate the flowers.
We observed how accessories and props sometimes make or break the exhibit and the three of us did not always agree on which were most effective. Most of the time, however, we were in concert, but there seems to be a fine line between too much and not enough where accessories are concerned.
Since we had seen no advance publicity on the event, one of my friends proposed that we make a game of trying to guess the show’s theme based on the appearance of the 12 to 15 exhibits that made up the show. It turned out to be a challenge. I thought I had it figured out, but as it turned out I was off base. One of my friends did come fairly close, but the contest, I suppose, was rather meaningless.
It was surprising that plant labeling and exhibit lighting were not more uniformly and better accomplished. It would seem that everyone should be able to make readable labels for their flowers and ensure that they are illuminated to their best advantage, regardless of the owner’s skills as a grower or exhibit designer. We agreed that we would also have appreciated knowing which individuals, groups or growers were responsible for installing the various exhibits. Only a couple of them were identified.
Again we scanned the room to find a member of the orchid society when it was time to verify the show theme. We did not want to bother those who were busy collecting the entrance fee so we searched the room for a membership table or location where members might be answering questions about orchid culture. Neither was in evidence. We finally took a chance on asking a couple of folks leaning against a wall if they were society members, and as luck would have it, they were. One was even the society’s president. They were not wearing any identification that would give their status away to visitors.
One of my friends asked if there was a membership application available for joining the host society of the orchid show. The chagrined leader of the society informed him that they had not considered that detail but told him when and where the next meeting of the group would be held.
SHOPPING TIME The three of us then determined that it was time to turn our attention to the orchid vendors and decided to split up so that each of us could home in on those types of plants in which we were interested. We agreed to regroup in 30 minutes and see if additional shopping time was needed.
When we met again each of us had made a couple of purchases and was pleased with what we had found. I commented to my novice friend with surprise at a mounted specimen she had acquired. It had a pretty inflorescence on a long flower stem. I told her I was surprised that she had chosen it not only because it was not a particularly easy-to-grow species, but also because she is a windowsill grower without the extra humidity I would expect would be necessary to cultivate the plant.
She told me that she had informed the seller of her growing conditions and level of expertise and he had assured her it was a good choice. I wondered if the salesman was ignorant or simply did not care. While I wished that my friend had been steered in the direction of an easier orchid that would build her confidence and skills, I rationalized that most of us, at one time or another, have made an orchid purchase that we did not have a prayer of keeping alive.
I expressed additional concern to my friend for the fact that her mounted plant had no bag or plant sleeve to protect it from the wind and cold that we were going to face when we took the plants outside. All of our other plants were wrapped, bagged or other-wise protected against the outdoor elements that day. My chum acknowl-edged that the seller of the mounted plant had provided no bag or wrapping similar to those for the plants purchased at the other vendors, but she was confident that she could protect the plant on the walk to the car.
My other friend wanted to go back to one vendor to see if he could purchase a plant identical to one of mine, so the other two said we would look for a place to sit down near the entrance and wait. As it turned out, there were no chairs. We scanned the room and could not see a spot to rest anywhere, so we stood on weary legs and waited for our companion.
As it turned out, we did not have to wait long, and soon the three of us were headed toward the door. We agreed that our timing had been good, as the crowd was beginning to swell.
We made our way out the door, where a strong gust of wind blasted us as we started toward the car. We gripped our purchases, but unfortunately the wind caught my friend’s unprotected plant and broke the inflorescence. Ever the optimist, she stated, albeit with an air of disappointment, that she would cut it off and enjoy it in a bud vase.
We drove away from the orchid show agreeing it could have been a better experience.
As you have probably guessed by now, this tale is fictitious. Still, all of the shortcomings are well within the realm of possibility. It is likely that every orchid show could improve if time were taken to consider the experience from the public’s point of view. The host society, vendors, exhibitors and even the judges have important public relations roles to play. While some problems may be unavoidable, planning and forethought can make an average visit for the orchid show attendee into a great one.