This are my final words on manipulation. The picture shows the flowering bulbs on 5 of April 08, the white in the foreground was Phoenician, this was shown in the winning Guy Wilson Trophy group at the RHS Main Competition. As you can see the whole area has been covered with PVC sheets to protect the blooms. The covers were put on 30 March and stayed on until after the last show which was this year 6 May then the PVC sheets were removed and put away until they were needed again, letting all the weather get to the bulbs. In other years I have covered a little bit earlier and taken them off earlier as well, usually in early seasons. As a rule of thumb I cover when about 50 % of the buds are in colour and take them off the day after my last show. Clive Postles, John Lea and the great Lionel Richardson used to build structures about 3 feet high the length of their rows with hessian or protection netting on the sides and covered the tops with shade material to stop the blooms being damaged by the weather. My method of covering has been tried and tested in my chrysanthemum days. The advantages from Clives, John’s and Lionel’s method is that I can walk around under them, cutting is made easier because I can get at every bloom and even if its wet I can still do what needs to be done in comfort. Also because of the construction of the cover it is cooler under them than outside of them, this is achieved by having one side of the apex lower than the other, giving an air gap over the full length, the gap is about 1 foot. (before anyone says how does he keep the rain out with this gap, the timber structure the PVC fastens to overlaps the lower side by about 18″ – 2′) For the boffins amongst us, natural convection allows the cold air to be draw in at the bottom, warm up and rise out of the gap in the top. There is always a gentle breeze under the covers and this helps to prevent botrytis and keep the environment ideal for the flowers. The dis-advantage is that the bulbs do not get any natural water while they are on. I do this with an irrigation system, again this takes the hard work out of watering, I can switch it on and leave it to water. As a hardened exhibitor of flowers, at the very top level for over 35 years, I have learnt to work with nature to produce the best possible results. As horticulturalists we all know that if the plot is left to its own devices you soon have a jungle or a desert, that is why we help nature a bit to ensure we get the result we require. If we live in the Garden of Eden then nature does not need much help but if you live half way up a mountain or in the desert, nature needs a lot of help and more in some cases. What I think is important is that the results are equal to the effort we put into getting them! which is true in anything we do. Like Brian I think we should keep it simple make the rules fair to ensure there is a level playing field for everyone and more importantly do not make rules that keep exhibits off the show bench. The exhibitors will always find a way to get the blooms on time and better if the rules are conducive to encourage experimentation. This way standards will go up, that is why in the UK we are growing varieties like Inverpolly better now than when it was shown as a seedling. A word of caution, if you try too hard to manipulate Nature she will sure let you know!
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