AOS POINT SCALEfor judging exhibits

The American Orchid Society Handbook on Judging and Exhibition provides the following point scale for judging Groups of Plants or Cut Flowers Arranged for Effect. This point scale is similar to ones used by horticultural organizations throughout the world and is used for scoring exhibits for show trophies and ribbons.

General Arrangement (Design)
which includes Balance, Contrast, Dominance, Proportion, Scale & Rhythm
Quality of Flowers 35pts
Variety 20pts
Labeling 10pts
T O T A L 100pts

Let's look at these four areas seperately and see how they relate to planning an orchid exhibit. Starting from the bottom up...

Any AOS judged orchid show requires that all orchids be accurately and legibly labeled. A full ten points of the score is allotted for labeling. There is no excuse for not getting the full ten points. If you are putting in an exhibit for a society where the plants come from many sources be sure you know the name before accepting a plant for consideration. Bring reference books or a laptop for spell checking. Typically, labels are done on poster board cut into strips then the individual labels are cut as they are done. A piece of floral wire with a "u" bent into it is taped to the back of the label. This light gauge wire can be inserted into a pot or bent to hang from a branch of foliage. For many years black poster board with a gold pen was popular. I have used a stone-gray and black calligraphy marker with good success. Greens, especially olive, are also popular. Just be sure that the labels are discreet and do not draw attention from the orchids themselves. They sholud be big enough to read but no bigger. I have seen exhibits with bright green labels that looked atrocious. Making sure that the person doing the labeling has good penmanship and is familiar with orchid names will make the job go much smoother. Having a list of all the orchids being considered for the exhibit is also helpful.

Variety, which accounts for 20 points, may sometimes be difficult for the hobbyist to control. If you are on a committee that is putting in a society exhibit you only have the plants the members provide to work with. If you are a hobbyist putting in your own exhibit you only have your own plants to work with. It is important to know what plants you will have a few days before you actually begin putting in the exhibit. This will give you ample opportunity to solicit additional plants in any areas that are deficient. Variety in an orchid exhibit can be many things: variety of color within a genus (such as many different colored Phals.), variety of flower sizes within a single genus, even variety of colors within a single species. The glossary of the Handbook on Judging and Exhibition defines "variety" as "Both as numbers of different genera and variety within one or a few genera". Unusual species can add interest to any group of plants. Obviously, judges find evaluating exhibits with a great variety of genera to be easier than evaluating those with variety of other types.

This pretty much speaks for itself. An exhibit with high quality flowers will almost always score higher than one that may excel in other areas. Keep in mind that this is an exhibit at an ORCHID SHOW, orchids must predominate. The exhibit with healthy, well-flowered plants will always catch the judges' eyes. Do not use diseased or otherwise unhealthy orchids. Do not use flowers that are past their prime or not fully opened. Do not, under any circumstances, use any artificial plant material. Do not manipulate flowers in any way (other than staking) to improve their appearance. Choose the highest quality hybrids and best species clones that you can possibly find. Flower quality counts for 35 points.

This may be the hardest area for the average person to grasp...this is the "artistic" part. It accounts for a full 35 points of the total score. Let's look at the components of "General Arrangement" one by one. As you will see, they all interract with each other. Keep in mind that we are discussing the whole exhibit, not just the flowers. BALANCE refers to the visual weight of one side of an exhibit compared to the visual weight of the other side. An easy way to evaluate the balance of your exhibit is by squinting your eyes and comparing the visual weight of the left side to that of the right side. The heavier side will appear as a more dominant blob than the less heavy side. A small grouping of light-colored flowers can have the same visual weight as a large grouping of dark-colored flowers. A balanced design is satisfying to look at so try to keep your exhibit visually balanced. CONTRAST is the difference between various elements in an exhibit. This could be a grouping of pink flowers against a dark foliage background or a small yellow spray Oncidium grouped with some large yellow Cattleyas. Contrasting elements can be different sizes, colors or forms. Contrast adds interest and texture to an exhibit. It is a good idea however, to use contrast sparingly. Indescriminate contrasting elements can create a confused appearance that is uneasy to look at. Judges particularly frown upon color contrast (see color flow). DOMINANCE refers to the attention getting qualities of certain elements against the other elements of a design. Dominance can be a result of size, form or color. A few orange Cattleya hybrids would be a dominant element in an exhibit of mostly pink and white Phalaenopsis. It is easy to unintentionally make our props the dominant element in our effort to make a statement. Keep in mind that we are doing an orchid exhibit...orchids must predominate. PROPORTION refers to the relationship between elements of a design; a group of dark Vanda flowers may be twice as big as the group of lavender Cattleyas, the Vanda flowers may be half as bright, they may have equal balance. Proportion lends coherence and serves to tie all the elements of a design together. SCALE is the specific proportion of size relationships of different elements. RHYTHM is the lifeblood of a design. Without rhythm an exhibit is static and lifeless. Rhythm is created by the use of the above components in various combinations to create movement within a design. Repetition of color or form, gradual change in form, size or color and diagonal or serpentine lines are all used to create rhythm in an exhibit. A frequently used device is a pathway to lead the eye into the exhibit and create rhythm and movement.

To the novice exhibitor these principals of design may seem ethereal and difficult to grasp. There are no yardsticks with which to measure balance or contrast. Let's stand back and look at the exhibit as a whole and try to see what our overall objective is.
A successful orchid exhibit should be pleasing to look at providing a variety of flowers that may contrast with each other yet are grouped so they work well together. Any props should reflect the show theme yet not dominate the orchids. This exhibit would have rhythm so that the eye would follow the different elements throughout the design. All elements would be balanced and in proportion so that no one thing was dominant. If you squint your eyes and one element is perceived as jarring then it should be removed, subdued or balanced with a similar element. If, as you plan your orchid exhibit, you lack ideas then look to nature. The natural world has a harmony that can always provide inspiration.

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