While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, getting to be a judge of that beauty at a National Garden Club-sanctioned flower show isn't that easy.
For many of the 24 students attending Flower Show School Wednesday, two days of classes and a morning of testing is just the beginning.
Dale DeFeo, of Marco Island, Fla., is one of two instructors teaching the classes at the offices of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach at Crossroads Mall. The classes are sponsored by the Fort Dodge Federated Garden Club.
Instructor Penny Decker, of Ormond Beach, Fla., goes over the finer points of how texture has an impact on color Wednesday during a National Garden Club-accredited Federated Garden Clubs of Iowa Flower Show School at the ISU Extension Service office at the Crossroads Mall. Decker is a National Garden Club master judge.
Shirley Wolf, of Farnhamville, studies a set of judging sheets. This is the first of four courses Wolf will have to take as part of the long process of becoming an accredited flower show judge.
Some sample arrangements at the school reflect a musical theme. This one contains a recorder.
DeFeo said its take almost three years to become a fully accredited flower show judge.
The current classroom session is only the first of four, she said. In addition, each student must take a written final exam, write a show program and then serve as an apprentice judge for five shows. They also have to maintain a high level of award with their own show entries.
"You have to be dedicated," DeFeo said.
Shirley Wolf, of Farnhamville, was among the students. Recently retired, her yard is a colorful collection of blooms.
"I've got flowers everywhere," she said.
She decided to take the training as a learning experience.
"It's a challenge," Wolf said. "I want to learn more."
She's not worried about the length of the training.
"I'm not in a hurry," she said.
Wolf was a little worried, though, about the test Friday that follows the two days of class work.
"I haven't taken a test in anything for years," she said. "It's kind of scary."
For the Wednesday session, students studied the principles of design from Penny Decker, of Ormond Beach, Fla. She's a National Garden Club master judge and a design instructor.
Decker said she enjoys teaching and seeing her students learn.
"I love watching the light bulb come on," she said.
She offered the students advice on the finer points of design such as using round shapes in arrangements.
"They pop," Decker said. "They hold your eye."
She's also well-versed on the often-complex and much-debated rules of flower shows. Things like whether a basket is allowed in a category can prompt long discussions and even controversy in the flower world.
Even such details as the proper distance from which to view a work is covered.
"You have to be 3 feet or more away," Decker said.
She suggests keeping things simple.
"If you put everything but the kitchen sink in your design you'll soon have chaos," she said.
Steve Wolter, of Spencer, and Pet Egertsen, of Laurens, enjoyed the chance to pick up some new knowledge.
"This was a good opportunity to learn from the best," Wolter said.
Wolter is just getting going.
"This is just the beginning," he said. "Today is only one of four."
He plans on continuing and, eventually, getting his accreditation.
Egertsen may or may not.
"Even if we don't do the rest we're still learning," she said.
Peggy Moody, of Fort Dodge, is a master level judge. She is also the Flower Show School chairman for the Federated Garden Club of Iowa.
She's been through the training and will be one of the first to tell an aspiring judge that it isn't easy.
"It's a hard course," Moody said. "If they're the judge they have to be very knowledgeable to be objective and fair."
While a lot of it seems overwhelming during the course work, she said it eventually gels.
"You really put it together when you start student judging," she said.
Today's session will cover horticulture.
DeFeo will cover raising tulips and violas in detail.
"If somebody can't grow them, then they can't have them to design with," she said.
For each plant, an entire sheet is filled out by a panel of judges.
"You have to know the plant to judge it well," DeFeo said.