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Showing and Judging

New to Showing? – Here are some hints to get you started

Read the Show Schedule and the rules carefully.  Note down exactly what is required for each class you plan to enter.  There may be restrictions on size, weight or colour of produce and each class will state exactly how many specimens are required.  If you don’t comply with the rules you will get the dreaded NAS card (not according to Schedule) and your entry will be disqualified.  If you need to submit your entry form before the Show day, make sure you do so.  Harvest your produce as near to Show day as possible so that it is in peak condition. Clean and prepare produce carefully so as to remove soil but not destroy things like roots if they are required to be shown still attached.

When you visit Shows, make a note of how the winning exhibits are displayed and what varieties of produce do well.  For example, classes for stump-rooted carots are nearly always won by the variety Sweet Candle which has all the qualities needed for showing.  Pack your exhibits carefully in your car so that they are not damaged in transit to the Show.  Vegetables can be wrapped in (damp) cloths or protected with sponge or newspaper.  Flowers travel well if inserted individually in bottles held upright in old milk crates.  If display materials such as vases and plates are not provided, make sure you take what you will need with you.  Paper plates are usually satisfactory; two piece ‘bikini’ vases are made of plastic or metal alloy and stack easily for transit and storage and can be bought online but any simple or plain vase will usually suffice.  You will also need a pen, scissors/knife, cloths, oasis and a water jug/can if you are exhibiting flowers.

Allow plenty of time to stage your exhibits.  It always takes longer than you think and the Show Schedule has strict timings allowed for entries.  Ensure that you stage your entries in the correct class.  If there appears to be no more space availaible in your class then ask a steward to re-arrange the spacing in order to accommodate your exhibit.  Do not touch anyone else’s exhibit – the steward will do this, if necessary.

Judging is made against an ‘ideal’ standard such as those established by Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) or National Vegetable Society (NVS).  Stating the variety adds interest for Show visitors but also informs the judge what your exhibit should look like which is important if you are showing an unusual type.

Sometimes exhibits are sold or auctioned off at the end of a Show.  If your exhibits are not intended for sale then make sure they are clearly marked not for sale and remove them as soon as possible after the Show is over.

If you are fortunate to win a trophy then please look after it and keep it safe until the due return date the following year. Silver and silver plated items will oxidise and turn brown over time. Minor tarnishing can be removed by washing the affected item in soapy water with a non-abrasive cloth and then polishing it dry. If the item is badly tarnished then use a silver polish BUT please do read the manufacturer’s instructions first! Exhibitors winning any of the Show trophies are solely responsible for engraving them at their own cost, should they wish to do so. The Committee will periodically examine all trophies for general condition and capacity for further engraving and will replace plain banding as appropriate.

For more information, consult: The Horticultural Show Handbook (8th Ed, 2016) produced by the Royal Horticultural Society and covers the judging of fruit, vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants, gardens and allotments, hanging baskets and outdoor-planted containers according to RHS judging criteria. This publication also offers useful hints to exhibitors, judges and show organisers. Further details can be obtained from RHS Enterprises Ltd, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB –

Getting Started on the Showbench and The Judge’s and Exhibitor’s Guide are two useful publications available from National Vegetable


The following selection of hints refers to the exhibition of vegetables. RHS and NVS judging rules follow similar criteria but you should always check the Show Schedule to see which organisation’s rules are applicable. 

Ensure that all produce is clean, fresh, free from pest and disease damage and meets the number of specimens required to be staged.  Try not to mix small and large specimens and remember that ‘biggest’ is not always ‘best’.  Include the name of the variety wherever possible.  The class may call for a ‘dish’ or ‘plate’ of whatever vegetable is named. A ‘dish’ is an exhibit of produce comprising one variety only.  A paper plate is usually satisfactory for displaying most items of produce but, if the Schedule states a specific size of dish/plate or tray, make sure your exhibit complies.

Beans, French and Runner should be long, straight, shapely, fresh and tender, of good colour with no outward signs of seeds in the pods.  Stalks should be attached.  One or more pods may be snapped by the judge to assess condition.

Cabbages should have fresh solid heads with outer leaves intact.  All foliage should be clean with natural bloom intact.  Roots are normally trimmed to about 75mm.  Any type may be exhibited unless otherwise specified.

Carrots, Beetroot, Parsnips and Turnips should be smooth-skinned and well-coloured throughout their length.  Beetroot and turnips may be cut by the judge to assess flesh colour and disease.  Roots should be intact (but side hair-roots may be carefully removed).  Foliage should be trimmed to approximately 75mm.

Cauliflowers, Calabrese and Broccoli should have solid curds with even heads.  Foliage should be trimmed back evenly and neatly to expose the curd.  Roots are normally trimmed to approximately 75mm.

Celery should be large, well-blanched and crisp.  Foliage should be attached and roots trimmed back to the root plate.

Courgettes should be tender with uniform shape and colour.  Optimum length is 150mm.  Courgettes may be shown with or without the flower still attached.

Cucumbers should be fresh, tender and straight.  They should be uniform in thickness and colour with short handles.

Leeks should have firm white, straight, non-bulbous barrels and foliage should be turgid.  Roots should be washed but not trimmed.

Marrows should be young and less than 350mm in length.

Onions and Shallots should be dressed (roots/foliage removed and the necks tied with natural raffia) with clean, unbroken well-ripened skins free from ribbing or discoloration.  Try to ensure that all bulbs are matched for size and shape.

Potatoes should be unblemished, of good shape and with shallow eyes.  Optimum weight is 200-250g.  White potatoes should have no colour on the skin (including eyes).  Potatoes showing full or partly coloured skin should be exhibited in the Other than white/Coloured potato class.

Sweet Corn should have fresh, well-formed cobs with a good eeven grain set and good tip fill.  Cobs should be staged with the silks attached and peeled open to 1/4 of of their width.

Tomatoes should be ripe, unblemished and well-shaped.  Optimum size is 60mm diameter for standard varieties and not more than 35mm for small-fruited varieties.  Calyces should be fresh.


Apples, Pears, Plums and Cherries should be of optimum size for the variety, shapely with eyes and stalks intact and with clear, unbroken skins of natural colour characteristic of the cultivar.  Bloom, where present, should be intact.

Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries and Currants should be large, ripe, of good colour, free from blemishes, in good condition and with stalks attached.

Any Other Fruit should be presented with stalks attached.  Ensure that the natural bloom, where present, is maintained.


A vase is defined as a vessel for displaying cut flowers in water and having a height greater than the diameter of its mouth.  Flowers are judged on the quality of blooms.  All cut flowers ahould be staged in water but floral foam (oasis), or other packing material may be used to hold blooms in place.


Some vegetables are more difficult to grow to perfection than others.  There is a ‘league table’ of vegetables which states the number of points they are worth when exhibited.  This only really matters when staging a collection of vegetables where the judge will award marks for each type against the maximum that the vegetable in question attracts.  For example, the judge may award 12/20 for a potato of only fair quality and 11/12 for a near perfect radish.  However, the prize will go to the exhibit gaining most points and the ‘fair’ potato will beat the ‘excellent’ radish.  You should therefore try to include as many high-pointed vegetables as possible. in your collection.

The following is a list of the maximum points available under NVS rules for various types of vegetables but you are advised to obtain your own copy of the NVS Judges’ and Exhibitors’ Guide which gives full details of the judging and points criteria used.

Beans, Broad15
Beans, Runner18
Beet Globe & Cylindrical15
Beet, Long20
Brussel Sprouts15
Carrots, Long-pointed20
Carrots, Stump-rooted18
Celery, Blanched or Trench20
Celery, Self-blanch/American green18
Leeks, Blanch/Intermediate/Pot20
Onions, Large exhibition20
Onions, 250g or under15
Onions, Grown from sets15
Shallots, Large exhibition18
Shallots, Pickling (30mm)15
Tomatoes, Exhibition18
Turnips or Swedes15

Showing vegetables can be great fun and a means of comparing your efforts against those of your fellow competitors but there are certain rules which need to be followed. The Show Schedule will usually specify basic rules such as staging times, entry fees, whether plates for staging will be provided and any restrictions imposed on the number of entries that may be staged. 

The NVS Judges’ and Exhibitors’ Guide forms the essential reference work for vegetable exhibitor and Judge alike but join our group and you will learn a lot more.

When staging your entry, don’t forget to place your exhibitor’s card face down alongside your exhibit.

Naming the varieties staged may be a requirement of the Schedule but, in any case, provides added interest to other exhibitors and visitors

Stump-rooted carrots should show a definite round stump at the root end. 

Only the right-hand carrot of these three shows proper definition

This carrot has been heavily downpointed because it shows evidence of ‘greening’ on the shoulders where it has been exposed to the light whilst growing.

The leaf stalks should be cut as late as possible in order to avoid drying out

Prize-winning cauliflowers may come in colours other than white!

Beans are kept flat and straight inside a damp cloth before staging them on the bench, often using a black linen or velvet cloth to enhance their appearance

The judge will normally snap one bean in half to assess age and freshness

Rhubarb, although basically a leaf stalk and normally used as a fruit for culinary purposes, is classed as a vegetable for showing purposes

With the outer leaves pulled back, the exposed heads of sweet corn should possess well-developed kernels placed in straight rows

The dreaded NAS (Not According to Schedule) card awarded by the Judge for an exhibit that does not conform to the Show Schedule requirements.

In this case, one bulb exceeded the 30mm maximum diameter stipulated for the small (pickling) shallot class. The official NVS 30mm ring gauge is also shown

Read the Schedule carefully! These peppers were staged in the any other fruit class but are regarded as vegetables for showing purposes

A basket of vegetables is judged on the three criteria of quality, variety and presentation of the produce

Vegetable Collection classes are prestigious and fiercely contested by exhibitors, though very demanding.

Try to stage select high-scoring types of vegetable (ie 18s and 20s), wherever possible, as a mediocre parsnip will generally outscore a perfect radish, though not always!

By way of illustration, this was the winning Collection of 4 Vegetables – one of each kind at one Show.

See the Judge’s scorecards below for a clearer explanation of this strategy

The Judge’s score card for the above winning Collection of 4 Vegetables – one of each kind

Note that cucumber and stump-rooted carrot are scored out of a maximum of 18 points, rather than 20. A risky strategy for the exhibitor but sometimes there is no choice if other crops fail to produce Show-quality specimens

The Judge’s score card for the second-placed entry in the same vegetable collection class.

Note that, even though four vegetables each with the maximum 20 point values were staged, the quality of some was judged to be inferior and consequently downpointed

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