The judges are coming!

Your garden either made it into the finals of the City Gardens Contest or it didn’t. The first round of judging is over. Awards in the contest, which is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, will be presented to gardens and gardeners who make it through the next round in August. Whether your garden made it into the finals or not, I have a few hints that might make you a winner this year or get you through the preliminary judging next summer.

But first, an admission: I’ve never, ever let any judges look at my backyard. They tried it once when someone else entered it in the contest. I wouldn’t let them in. Getting our community garden into shape to win (or place) is quite enough work for me, thank you.

On the other hand, Southwark/Queen Village Garden has won first or second place for more years than I can remember, so I do have some experience with getting ready.

Neatness counts big time. Get rid of all of the weeds or have a good reason for leaving some in place. Decades ago, we actually left some of the original weeds in part of our garden. We wanted to preserve the "wildness" for a while and show people what the place had looked like before we started gardening. We identified each one by its botanic name, and explained our plan to the judges.

Sweep all of the hard surfaces in the morning before the judges are to arrive, and find someplace to hide the trash bags. Leaving them in the garden isn’t a great strategy. Water everything really well, preferably in the morning. Freshly watered plants look really bright, perky and well cared for.

If you have shrubs or roses, check them out and give them a haircut if they look a bit raggedy or overgrown. Do not do this on judging day! You know the judges will be around next month, so start work now. That will give new growth a chance to hide the scars.

The judges also look at how many kinds of plants you have. Go around and make a list. Point out anything you think is rare or special. Listing the botanic names and the names of special varieties can’t hurt. Most judges will know that you’re growing tomatoes or roses, but they may not know that your tomatoes are Russian heirlooms or your roses were introduced the year your house was built.

Community gardeners would do well to write a little history of the garden and maybe a fact sheet that says how many gardeners you have, who the officers are and what committees you have. Judges love to see organization in community gardens. One thing we’ve never done is give the judges a copy of our bylaws, but now that I think of it, it might be an idea.

Winning is nice, and it’s a good way to attract support. Go for it.