Southampton Rose Society Shares Competition Tips

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Huguette Hersch jumped back from her Dream Come True show roses, slightly startled when she heard her name called from the opposite end of her Water Mill garden.

It only took her a second to realize it was her expected company, and a broad smile broke across her face.

“Come, come, Helga!” she called back. “You know where I am!”

Fellow rosarian Helga Dawn wandered into the poolside garden, casually inspecting Ms. Hersch’s immense inventory, which will undoubtedly be contenders during the Southampton Rose Society’s “Rose Show” competition at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton on Saturday, June 8, as well as instructional tools during the group’s preceding workshop, “Choosing Award-Winning Roses,” on Sunday, June 2, in Ms. Hersh’s garden.

“Hello!” Ms. Dawn greeted her friend.

They kissed each other on the cheek and Ms. Hersch went in for the double as Ms. Dawn pulled away. The two women burst into giggles as Ms. Dawn corrected her gaffe.

“I’m French,” Ms. Hersch said, still laughing. “If I were Russian, you would have to give me four.”

“Four?” Ms. Dawn asked. “In Germany, you really just only shake the hands.”

“That’s very gracious. That’s very noble.”

“It’s different. The French are more intimate. And the Germans are not.”

Ms. Dawn paused, and concluded, “But we both love roses.”

It is the colors and the smells, Ms. Hersch said, that draw her to roses, though the stems, the leaves and even the thorns contribute toward proportionate, award-winning roses. It is a serious science for competitors, who often tag their contending roses a week to several days before the show.

Roses for competition are cut only the morning of the show—or the night before, in Ms. Dawn’s case—usually as the sun rises, according to Rose Society President Hal Goldberg.

“You pick the ones you think are going to win,” he said last week during a telephone interview. “Some people are really good at that. So we have two of our most experienced and most successful rosarians to really show you, really explain how it’s done.”

This year, the Southampton Rose Society is presenting ample opportunities to learn about roses. The day before Ms. Hersch’s and Ms. Dawn’s Sunday co-presentation on “Choosing Award-Winning Roses, American Rose Society Judge Freda Smith—who will also be one of the three judges at the Rose Show—will visit Carole Guest’s Southampton garden for a “Competitive Rose Arranging Workshop” on Saturday, June 1. It’s the first of its kind for Rose Show competition, and is being offered in support of the newest category in the 37th annual Rose Show on Saturday, June 8, at the library.

“It’s not just about arranging for a cocktail party,” Mr. Goldberg said. “It’s about arranging roses to compete.”

Typically, any arrangement competition has a theme, he said. The inaugural concept is “Downton Abbey.”

As far as arranging for competition, Ms. Freda’s words of advice were to the effect of “keep it soft and simple.”

“I think when you look at most of the art of that time, it’s very soft, it’s very elegant—pinks, yellows, mauves,” she explained last week during a telephone interview from her home in North Palm Beach, Florida. “It’s not too much of the dark reds and purples. I think it’s very Victorian. That’s what we have to look at. Victorian displays of their materials and Victorian displays of napkins. Nothing very hard, but soft to the eyes.”

Arrangement competitors will want to focus on English rose varieties, such as David Austin English roses, which are Ms. Hersch’s “pride and joy” in her garden—particularly the Gertrude Jekyll variety that blankets the entry gate. Ms. Jekyll, an influential British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer who died in 1932, created more than 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. She has been described as “a premier influence in garden design” by English and American gardening enthusiasts.

“Ah, look at that,” Ms. Hersch said. “When you pass through, the fragrance kills you. I’m going to get my clippers so I don’t catch the thorns.”

She half-skipped inside, returning to cut one of the pink blooms. “They really, they don’t treat you well,” she said while she de-thorned the stem, flinching as she pricked herself.

When she finished, she stuck her nose into the petals, inhaled and breathed out, “Isn’t that something? I just can’t get enough.”

She passed the flower to Ms. Dawn, who mirrored her friend. “Incredible,” she sighed. “I love roses for their beauty. Most of the modern roses don’t have fragrance anymore. Only the Austin roses and older roses now.”

In some of the Rose Show categories, fragrance will be a contributing factor. But for all, the rose’s proportion, dimension, bloom—its petals, color and a centered, single middle—and leaves must be perfect, the women explained. De-bud early to avoid scarring on the stem, they said, and select roses that are not fully opened.

“The night before, I can decide if one might be a little too open in the morning because they open in the morning and they open at sunset,” Ms. Hersch reported. “So I will cut it away before the sunset so that it doesn’t open more, and then I put it to its neck in water, including the leaves. For me, it has worked. It’s warm in the judging room, so they have the chance to open more. If they’re not too open, I blow my love into them.”

Taking the Gertrude Jekyll back from Ms. Dawn, she blew on the flower, whispering “Open, open.”

Ms. Dawn laughed and toyed with the petals, plucking a few off the bottom. “There’s so much you learn over the years. You can clean up the flower a little bit, and clean the leaves with a little milk,” she said. “What we’re looking for is the beauty and overall impression. I would advise people not to get too neurotic about it.”

Ms. Hersch shot her friend a skeptical look, and the two women burst into laughter again, dissolving into rose talk as they exited the garden.

In preparation for the 37th annual Rose Show, the Southampton Rose Society will host two workshops. On Saturday, June 1, join Freda Smith in the Southampton garden of Carole Guest at 10 a.m. for the “Competitive Rose Arranging Workshop.” On Sunday, June 2, visit Huguette Hersch’s Water Mill garden to meet with the owner and Helga Dawn at 10 a.m. for “Choosing Award-Winning Roses.” The Rose Show, which will be judged by Ms. Smith, Louis Arce and Guss Preiser, will be held on Saturday, June 8, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton. For more information, call 740-4732 or visit southamptonrose.org.

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