close icon
leaf icon
leaf icon
leaf icon
calendar icon
Gardens To Visit
caret icon
Visit a PHS garden or landscape to help build stronger social connections with your community.
For Neighborhoods
caret icon
Explore programs that create healthy, livable environments and increase access to fresh food.
For Gardeners
caret icon
Engage with PHS on gardening, whether you’re an expert or a beginner.
About Us
caret icon
Get to know our story, become a part of our staff, or see what is in the news with PHS.
The Flower Show

Be the Judge: An Inside Look at the Judging Process for the Philadelphia Flower Show Plant Competition

February 28, 2024

leaf icon philadelphia flower show

phs flowershow23 295

By Amanda Baez 

The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show hosts a variety of activities and events, but did you know that it also hosts the world’s largest plant competition? 

We sat down with two judges, Arabella Dane, and Damon Smith, to discuss the behind-the-scenes process of judging the wide variety of exhibitors each year during the Flower Show. Learn about the different categories and classes, how plants are judged, and what characteristics a plant needs to have to earn a winning score.  

How did you get involved in the Flower Show as a judge? 

Arabella: I have been a Flower Show judge for the Garden Club of America and National Garden Clubs for more than 30 years. When I first started my training I was included in judging panels as a student judge and when I gained more experience I moved up to become a regular judge. 

Damon: I have been judging for other organizations since 2006 but did not start judging at the Flower Show until 2020. I was asked by two friends if I would be interested in judging at the Show after many judges had pulled out due to COVID-19. I had attended many Flower Shows in the past and was happy to accept the invitation to judge the competitions.  

photo 8
Flower arrangement and horticulture judge, Arabella Dane.

What categories do you judge? 

Arabella: I usually judge the flower arranging and horticulture competitions, but before I did that, I would take part in the landscape judging. Landscape judging was very fun for me because I am an accredited landscape judge for the Federated and National Garden Clubs.  

Damon: I oftentimes judge cactus and succulents. I love judging these categories because there are always beautiful contestants that I enjoy seeing.  

What are the judging criteria you look for when judging exhibitors? 

Arabella: I review the PHS rules and criteria for whatever it is I am assigned to and act accordingly. The interesting thing is that those rules are unique to PHS so I learn about what competitions I am assigned to judge to make sure that I am looking at everything in the way they want me to look at it. 

Damon: There are certain rules for the competitions I judge. I refer to those rules and apply them to the candidates that are participating in the competitions.  

What is your favorite category to judge? 

Arabella: I love to judge horticulture because PHS has a wonderful way of putting a plant society person or grower on the panel with the Flower Show Judges. The growers who participate in the Show have phenomenal collections and I learn so much about what they grow and show. 

Damon: I love to judge the cactus and succulents because I always see many interesting contestants. 

What is your favorite part about judging at the Flower Show? 

Arabella: My favorite part about judging at the Flower Show is collaborating with the judges and working out a consensus on whatever it is we are doing. I love how we all see the world differently and because of that, we have to find a way to communicate all of our visions to something we think is universally acceptable.  

Damon: I love collaborating with other judges! There are usually three judges on a panel and we always communicate well with each other. Even when we have debates, it is still fun because we can see what other people like and dislike.  

img 1484
Cactus and succulent judge, Damon Smith.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to compete in the Flower Show? 

Arabella: Read the schedule carefully so that they use their space correctly.  

Damon: Anyone can compete! You do not need to be a highly experienced gardener to submit your plant to a competition.  

Why should the public be interested in this process?  

Arabella: It may help people to grow better plants and to see a variety of plants that they could be growing. Many gardeners get their plants at a local nursery and oftentimes it can cause people to grow the same things. Seeing many plants competing at the Flower Show can introduce new plants to different people and can inspire a more diverse garden.  

Damon: Most of the time the public is out while we are judging so they can see us at work. Seeing how the judging process is conducted firsthand and learning about the outcome of competitions can pose as interesting to the public so that they can understand why the plants are scored the way they are.  

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Arabella: I would like to commend the staff at PHS for the work they do to put on this incredible Show. It is a massive effort for the organization and a huge endeavor to take part in. There are not many flower shows left in the United States and the fact that PHS has its show every year makes it a national treasure in my eyes.  

Damon: I would like to let people know that if they would like to compete, they can do it! It is exciting to see many gardeners come together for these competitions because the Flower Show gives such an inviting welcome to people.  

Get Involved in the Next Flower Show 

Are you interested in becoming a future exhibitor for the Philadelphia Flower Show? Gardeners of all levels are encouraged to participate in the PHS Hamilton Horticourt during the Flower Show to exhibit their plants. If you are creative, consider participating in the Artistic and Design Classes with the opportunity to compete in categories such as botanical arts, photography, and more! There is no age limit to compete; you do not have to be a member of a garden club or an art scholar. We only require our contestants to be passionate individuals who love a friendly competition!  

For more information on becoming a Flower Show exhibitor, contact the Competitive Classes Team @[email protected]

Want to be the first to know about the next Philadelphia Flower Show? Sign up for updates.