NVS Judging Blog

It was June and I was preparing for my first major show as Show Secretary of my local horticultural society. Our judge for our Summer Show was Peter Cranfield. Over lunch I told Peter that I was in training to be a judge with the Essex Guild of Horticultural Judges. He suggested that I should enter the National Vegetable Society judging exam in October. I am always keen to further my knowledge and so agreed to do it.

I could not believe how quickly the exam came round. The first part of the exam is a written paper. This contains some multiple choice, some two mark questions and then some longer six mark questions. This was the last exam based on the old style judging guide. From 2018 the new edition of the judging guide will be used to form the base of the exam. There were 100 marks up for grabs and the pass mark was 75. It felt like a long time since I had last sat in an exam hall!

Having warmed up it was now time for the main event. The room had eight classes laid out with five entries in each class. The vegetables included potatoes, carrots and onions. At the top of the hall there were two five vegetable collections. At the other end of the hall there were three vegetables all with faults that had to be identified. At first I was quite intimidated by the classes. Most of the exhibits were of a very high standard. Some had been entered in the Westminster show the week before.


It was fantastically well organised and run event. I went away feeling that I had given it my best but that I would not have passed the practical as it was tough and I had never judged to such  standards before. Having said this, I was determined to use the experience to stand me in good stead to have another go at some point.

In the weeks that passed I had almost forgotten all about the exam and the results. One day I received a large envelope and inside was a certificate, letter and badge informing me that I had passed both parts of the exam and I was now an NVS qualified judge.. At the age of 22 I believe that I must be one of the youngest ever to take the NVS judging exam let alone pass it. I honestly could not believe it as it was completely unexpected but wonderful surprise

The main goal of my blog is to give readers a first hand account of the day and what you can expect. What I really want it to do is to encourage others to give it a go. To keep the shows going up and down the country we need more people to become judges. If you have ever thought of judging then have a go at the exam in October this year. It will be a fantastic experience and I guarantee that you will be a better grower, shower or judge for the experience. The exam is always the first Saturday of October so get in touch with your local DA and find out more. I promise that you will not regret it!

First Year On the Job

It has been just over a year ago that I was elected to become the Show Secretary of my local horticultural society. At the age of 22, I believe I may be one of the youngest Show Secretary’s ever! Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year in the role.

tom at the showThe first job of the year is to compile the Show Schedule for the year ahead.  The Show Schedule includes, among other things, social event dates, show dates and show details. New for this year was some sponsorship from a local garden centre. This boosted the society funds as well as covering the costs of printing the Show Schedule. I carefully went through page by page making the alterations necessary. At the same time I wanted to ensure that I did not change too much too quickly. I was pleased with the finished result given I had never done anything like it before.

As I discussed in my previous blog part of my new role involved running the annual seed potato growing competition. For 2017, I managed to secure sponsorship of the competition from Thompson & Morgan. With their help we had nearly three times the number of potato bags returned compared to the year before. I would consider the potato competition to be the highlight of my first year as Show Secretary.


Our first major show of the year is our Summer Show in June. This takes a good deal of organisation beforehand from the advertising, judge booking and setting up of the hall itself. The judge was impressed with the exhibits on show given we are a small village society. The show was also well received by the visiting public. The one mistake I made was booking a family holiday for the same week. After the show was all packed up I headed up to Norfolk to join the rest of family. I will be sure to check the diary next year!

getting ready for the show

The biggest event in the Show Secretary’s calendar is the Autumn Show in September. Having shown for a few years now this day is stressful enough as an exhibitor. This year I had the added pressure of also running the day as well. Being organised was the key to success of the day. To my amazement we had 242 entries. This is the most entries we have had in at least 10 years. In fact there was so much to judge the judging finished just as the doors opened to the public! The whole day made me proud to be a part of such a thriving horticultural society.

show exhibits and judging

I have learned an awful lot from my first year on the job. I would also like to thank all of those who have helped and supported me throughout the year. One of the biggest challenges I have faced is not changing too much too soon. My main goal is to try and encourage more young people to get involved with growing and showing. Having thoroughly enjoyed my first year I look forward to learning from my mistakes and building on the successes in 2018.

Breaking Down Barriers

Five years ago my local horticultural society was on the brink of extinction. Membership numbers had dwindled and the society was losing hundreds of pounds every year.  The main expense was the putting on of the shows. Something had to change or the society would have been forced to close its doors for good.

weighing the society entries

The great weigh in commences

In recent years we have tried many different things to try and encourage more people to attend out shows. One of the ways we have tried to do this has been through the launch of a seed potato growing competition.  Each member is able to purchase for a nominal fee one seed potato and one bag. They have to take them away with them, pot them up and grow them on. They then have to bring their potato bag to the Autumn Show for the big weigh in.

In its inaugural year twelve bags were brought to the Autumn Show. The winner, Andy Gaskin, managed to grow 2.4kg of potatoes from his bag. Although twelve does not seem like a great number it was the most popular class in the whole show.   The competition had added an extra dimension to the show as many people were excited to watch the big weigh in. It was without doubt a great success.

weighing in a society member's entry

Each entry is weighed under watchful eyes

For 2017 I have taken on the role of Show Secretary for the society. My goals were to make the shows more popular with people in terms of showing and visiting. At the same time I wanted to try and make the shows profitable for the society. It also meant for this year that I would be responsible for the seed growing potato competition. I started by looking for sponsors for the competition itself. I was thrilled when I got the news from Thompson & Morgan that they would agree to sponsor this year’s competition. We were sent 60 nine litre bags and some “Jazzy” seed potatoes. At our February monthly meeting the seed potatoes were distributed to the membership.


Thomas Carpenter, society secretary winning

We have a winner!

Before I knew it, September had rolled around and it was time for our Autumn Show. I was hoping that this year we would beat the number of bags returned from last year.  To my amazement we managed to get thirty bags to the weigh in and it took over an hour to weigh all them! The winner managed to get 1.4kg from the 9 litre bag. It had been a hugely successful competition.

I believe this simple competition has had a huge impact on our society.  It is so easy to get involved with and generates friendly competition between the members of the society. It gives people more of a reason to come to the show and it has generated income for the society. Most importantly, it helps to break down the stigma attached to Horticultural Shows that you need to be an expert to enter them. It encourages anyone to get a seed potato and a bag and have a go.


I hope to build on the success of this year’s competition and make it bigger and better for next year. I would like to thank Thompson & Morgan for their support and hope this competition continues to help this small village horticultural society thrive.

Giving Giants a Go

Last year, I saw a feature on BBC News live from RHS Hyde Hall where Matthew Oliver had smashed the record for the largest pumpkin grown outdoors in the U.K. The giant weighed in at an incredible 605kg which is 95 stone in old money. Inspired, I thought next year I would give it a go.

I purchased some seed from the Thompson & Morgan website with the seeds being named. “Matt’s Monster.” I also discovered a page on their website “How to Grow a Giant Pumpkins” which has some great tips and how to get started.

I have been a keen gardener and grower of vegetables and flowers for the last seven or eight years. Although this may not seem a long time I am still only 22! I have never really had the space or knowledge to grow pumpkins of any size let alone a giant! I sowed the seed in my electronic propagator, another first for me this year and I was off. The starting gun had been fired.


Soon enough I had two small pumpkin plants that were in need of being planted out. Both were rather leggy and I wasn’t convinced they were going to become anything. One thing I know about pumpkins is that they are very hungry plants. So I decided there was only one place these could go. The compost heap. Before I knew these tiny plants had swamped the compost pile and was heading for the roof of the greenhouse! The growth rates on the plants were phenomenal and like nothing I had ever seen before.


After a continued expansion in growth that I managed to move away from the greenhouse and out onto the garden the flowers began to come. At first I was confused because there seemed to just be male flowers with no female flowers. Female flowers are identified by the small ball behind the flower. At last I had a female flower and my giant had been born.

The growth of the pumpkin has been just as impressive as the growth of the plant. It grew from a cricket ball size on 15/07/17 to beach ball size just ten days later. I took photos so that I could keep a record of how fast it grew. I even got my mum to take photos and send me daily updates of the progress of the giant pumpkin’ while I was away on holiday. I expect by the end of the season it will have bulked up to a decent size. However, nothing like what Matthew Oliver managed to achieve.



The lessons I have learnt from this experiment have been fantastic. It has reminded why I fell in love with horticulture which is that you never stop learning. Although I am by no means an expert I’ve learnt a lot this season and will use my knowledge to beat this year’s efforts next year. Also it has encouraged me to try new things out and not be afraid to make mistakes. I’m sure this year I made many mistakes but all that has done has put me in a better position next year. So from now on every year I have challenged myself to have a go at growing something I’ve never grown before. I would thoroughly encourage you all to do the same!






If you feel similarly inspired to grow your own pumpkin, enormous or modest sized, find all you need to know at our pumpkin and squash hub page.



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