There are flower shows and flower shows. There are con-sized events where large sections of an exhibition hall are made over into gardens, complete with lawns, fountains and flagstone walks, with vendors galore. There are serious events where chrysanthemum fanciers show off their best blooms. Then there are small, local, garden club events, and it's of these I have the most experience.

Usually, the flower show is the high point of the garden club year: held sometime when spring turns into summer, or summer into fall, when the greatest number of flowers are in bloom. Each flower show has a theme: Famous Modern Artists, A Salute to America, Outer Space, and the like, none of which seem, superficially, to have anything at all to do with flowers, per se, and it's true, only half of the show has anything at all to do with the theme. The non-theme events are predictably, the judging of actual plants against rigid standards of horticulture, and as such, are kind of boring.

However, that's not the whole story; the real action is in the "Flower Arranging" section. Strangers to flower shows usually think of flower arrangements as being any group of flowers, arranged attractively in a container. Competative flower arrangements are nothing like this: they're actually semi-sculptures from 18"-36" tall or more, with driftwood, sheet metal, ceramics, and other, found objects that only tangentially seem to be holding flowers. Precise rules, given beforehand, give the dimensions of the arrangement, the kind of flowers to be used, the backdrop, and the all-important theme to be carried out -- "The Freedom of Flight", "Jackson Pollock", or "When Bugles Rang True"-- which is usually a subset of the overall show theme (somehow, things get muddled in the translation). The winners get ribbons, the non-winners at least feel as if they got shown, and everyone consumes more coffee, sweets, and gossip than usual. Door prizes are given out, which usually consist of soap, fancy candles, fingertip towels, or the like. Finally, everyone goes home, taking their creations with them, which get dismantled immediately, since there's no place to display them in an average home. And everyone starts making plans for next year.

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