Varied Interpretations Heighten an Orchid Show’s Display
WHEN A SPECIALTY PLANT SOCIETY sponsors a plant exhibition, it is not uncommon for the event to have a theme or title. This is particularly true of orchid-society shows. Before I became involved in an orchid society, I didn’t understand why they had such themes. To a complete outsider, they can seem a bit silly or contrived. I even supposed that they were sometimes the leftover ideas of long-graduated high-school-prom committee members whose theme suggestions had not been chosen. Now I realize that a well-chosen show theme serves several useful purposes.
PROVIDING DIRECTION Because most societies hold their orchid shows at about the same time every year, the perennial exhibitors often find they have the same plants in bloom every time the orchid show comes around. For those exhibitors, particularly those who participate in many shows, a theme helps provide a fresh way to approach the task of displaying their plants.
An orchid show, unlike many other horticultural exhibitions, usually consists of more or less naturalistic arrangements of the displayed plants. Each display is assembled and staged by an individual or group and is unique. The judges’ challenge is to move from exhibit to exhibit to compare plants of similar type in every award class. Most other flower shows group similar types or colors of blossoms together, which makes for rather quick and easy comparisons. A good show theme can help unify the orchid exhibits, which usually vary considerably not only in size and scale but also in the type of orchids that are incorporated into the display.
A theme can provide the club with promotional opportunities and helps to make each show a unique and memorable event. Posters and press releases about the show should include the theme as well as the dates, location and show hours.
SETTING COURSE Choosing a show theme is an activity guaranteed to provoke dissent and frustration within any group charged with selecting one. Some individuals prefer rather specific, narrow themes, while others favor titles with a wider scope. It is usually a good idea to select a theme that may have a variety of interpretations.
It is hard to say what makes a good orchid-show theme. I have often suspected that the best themes do not contain the word “orchid.” Some examples of this sort would include “Faraway Places,” “Jungle Treasure” or “Wild Things.” To the contrary, a couple of memorable themes at shows I have attended were “Orchid Roundup” and “Orchid Gardens.” There is obviously no hard and fast rule.
Hopefully, a good show theme will help create a mood or atmosphere about the show. As an orchid-show visitor or judge, I have sometimes wondered, after viewing a few displays, what, exactly, was the show theme. Perhaps this happens after seeing a seemingly odd or incongruous exhibit. Next time you stroll through an unfamiliar orchid show, try to guess the theme. If you happen to already know it, ask a friend who does not to have a look around and see if they can deduce it. Such an exercise is surely meaningless, except as food for thought.
As an exhibitor, it is important to carefully consider how to interpret the theme. There is usually no requirement to follow the theme, but unless the title conjures absolutely nothing in your imagination, you might as well participate, if only nominally.
There is a danger, particularly for novices, to go overboard with the theme. Always remember that you are participating in an orchid show and that the flowers and plants should be the focus of the display. The theme might give you an opportunity to add an interesting item to the exhibit or creatively label, contain, arrange or showcase your entries. Any props, accessories or backdrops you add should be scaled to the size of your exhibit and plants.
I also think it is a good idea for the exhibitor to include a neat and legible title card that can be unobtrusively displayed at the front or side of the exhibit. Such titles can help clarify the exhibitor’s interpretation of the theme and enhance the visitors’ understanding and en-joyment of the display.
CHALLENGING THE JUDGES Sometimes orchid judges seem to have difficulty factoring the aspect of theme interpretation into the equation when they are determining display awards at an orchid show. I have occasionally heard judges remark that they do not favor a particular accessory or construction that was incorporated into an exhibit for the sake of the theme, and therefore choose to discount the exhibit from award consideration. This seems unfair. Each exhibit ought to be critiqued on principles of design and color arrangement, as well as plant quality and variety, and not on the personal taste of a judge as to any particular element. Remaining objective is the challenge for all judges.
Many orchid shows that have themes offer an exhibit award for that display that best interprets the theme. This, indeed, can be a challenging selection. It would seem that exhibit size or quality of flowers would not be primary criteria for this award. It should be granted to an exhibit that tastefully interprets the theme, and not go to one that went overboard with a clutter of thematic paraphernalia.
Perhaps the most important pur-pose of a show theme is to challenge and stimulate our imaginations. Whether you happen to like or dislike the theme of any particular orchid show in which you may participate, try to find a way to acknowledge the theme. Have fun with it.