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Showing Good Roses by Robert B. Martin, Jr.
Pasadena, Ca: RoseShow.com, 2001. 512 pages.
$32.95 from www.RoseShow.com or $37.90 (including shipping) from www.rosemania.com.
Had you traveled the rose show circuit this past Fall in Southern California, you could see them. Banished by timing and insight from the inner circles of the top exhibitors, the 'wannabees' and ‘neverweres’ huddled in the morning cold over the nicked and dog-eared pages of a 500 page white book reading, checking, and re-checking the excellent advice contained therein. Early on it became clear that this book would be more than the stated ‘….complete exhibitor’s guide.’ It quickly established itself as the standard consulting reference for the elements of the exhibiting world.
Showing Good Roses, by Robert B. Martin, Jr. operates on several levels; a priori, it assumes that the traditional rose show is the primary mechanism for executing the educational mission of the American Rose Society. Instrumentally, long-range plans for the efficient pursuit of victory at the trophy table are indicated; tactically, recommendations regarding the use of cuticle nippers for the removal of elongated points of central petals in ‘fully open’ classes are offered.
A good example of the complex considerations occurs in a brief paragraph concluding the chapter on the showing of Old Garden Roses (OGRs). The author notes that OGR enthusiasts are frequently collectors of roses. As such, they commonly neglect such routine things as water and fertilizer as well as disease and pest control—all necessary ingredients in the growing and showing of excellent roses. Given this propensity on the part of OGR enthusiasts, the exhibitor who grows a few well chosen OGRS has a significant advantage in entering competitive OGR classes because of the more concentrated dedication of the exhibitor. (By the way, this observation is borne out by the increasing number of OGR classes won by the regular top exhibitors.) However dismissive of OGR enthusiasts, the comment may well be reflective of a tendency that exalts the process of acquisition over the actual process of rose maintenance.
The prose is more than serviceable; it is eminently readable. Roses and wine both elicit the most purple of prose—well, mauve if you must—in converting into word pictures the arts of sight and sense, including the third eye of balance and proportion. One of the great strengths of this book is that matters which tend to be difficult to explain –are—explained in the simplest of language. Anyone who has ever tried to explain the difference between an A minus and an A will appreciate the care that went into the delineation of the concept of ‘distinction.’ ‘Distinction’ is that which separates roses that are winners of blue ribbons from those that make the trophy table as contenders for royalty; “…it is the thing that makes you go ‘Wow.’” (page 324).
The clarity of writing is matched by a clarity of vision. The advice and information assumes that the reader wishes to engage in successful exhibiting. The attitude of the author is that someone wishing to exhibit intends to do so with the greatest efficiency possible. Thus, in the section entitled ‘All They Can Be,’ the author exhorts the reader/exhibitor to maximize the circumstances for growing and showing the best roses by concentrating his or her efforts, discarding losing propositions, and by acquiring the intellectual and physical tools necessary for the task. This also entails eschewing the principles of organic gardening, of not collecting every new novelty rose that appears on the market, and by a faithful adherence to a regular routine of providing roses with the nutrients and care that they need. For some reason such advice elicits howls of outrage from various sectors of the rose world. Probably it is because we have become unused to clarity of vision and have grown to love the softening edges of soothing and healing adverbs; a well-placed ‘generally’ can leave doors open to a variety of interpretations. Bob Martin slams such doors shut at every opportunity. No gentle mercy is shown to those who place roses in the show ‘for color,’ nor, presumably, for those who enter roses in shows for purposes other than to be on the trophy table, or to be in ‘the game.’
Illustrative charts document characterizations of roses as ‘bankers,’ ‘bridesmaids,’ and potential queens. Trends over the last half decade of the last century identify the roses appropriate to various classes, as well as to local, district, and national challenge classes.
The discussions comparing the varied ways in which top exhibitors transport their roses to local and far distant shows not only impart that knowledge to the reader, they indicate the generosity and openness with which top exhibitors share their expertise.
There are so many treasures in this book: a listing of the various national and district challenge classes and how to approach them; a chapter on strategies for entering classes involving English boxes and Artist’s palettes; an appendix including a Model Rose Show Schedule. There are annotated commentaries on nearly two dozen rose vendors, a dozen suppliers of equipment, and a summary of the major chemicals used in the fight against blight, disease, and insects. In short, this book is a grand tour of the world of rosaria, or at least the temple of exhibition of roses.
Given the impeccable logic of Showing Good Roses, it must be clear that many of the participants in rose shows have no business being there. Personally, I know that I either cannot or will not submit to the discipline necessary to participate effectively and fully in the showing of roses. It is possible that fledgling exhibitors could be daunted by the enormity of the tasks and the dedication involved in ‘Showing Good Roses.’ If that be the case, hide this book from them until the fires of competition and devotion to rose culture have been stoked and they are incapable of resisting the siren call. If they follow the measures recommended in the book, they will soon find themselves inevitably moving toward the inner and warmer circles of the top exhibitors on some future Spring and Fall Saturday mornings.
As of the date of publication Bob Martin had not been ‘skunked’—excluded from the trophy table-- for 57 shows in a row. As dedicated and distinguished an exhibitor as he is, he is aware that the day will come when he will be skunked again. It will most likely be at the hands of someone who has read his book and applied the lessons well.
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