By Kim Walter - email@example.com
WINCHESTER - To Jean Gilpin, garden clubs aren't just about putting together flower arrangements.
"It's so much more beyond that," she said Wednesday during the 2012 Garden Club of America Zone 7 Flower Show at the George Washington Hotel in Winchester.
Gilpin, a member of the Winchester-Clarke Garden Club, was also the Flower Show co-chair. The show brought together representatives of 18 garden clubs in the zone, which includes those in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Participants arrived Monday and had until Tuesday afternoon to register and prepare their entries for judging. Entries were made to five divisions at the show: floral design, horticulture, photography, embellishment and conservation and education exhibit.
Each club produced at least three entries for horticulture and one for floral design.
The floral design exhibit had several different classes, which revolved around themes related to the Shenandoah Valley. The challenge class' theme was 'The Valley's Bounty' and presented entrants with two hours to design and put together an exhibit using only the provided materials, which were all bought at local farmers markets.
Another theme was 'Crazy,' which played off the title of a Patsy Cline song.
At the embellishment table, contestants decorated high heels with natural materials.
"This is just so fabulous, how it stretches your imagination," said Janna Leepson, a member of the Upperville-Middleburg Garden Club. "I've been to the Philadelphia Garden Show, which is much bigger than this, but many of these exhibits would be comfortable in showing at that type of show."
Leepson said actual construction of floral arrangements might not take too long, because only fresh materials can be used. However, planning the design can take much longer.
"Flower arrangers are constantly looking at things in a creative way," she said. "It's great to come here and see such well-developed ideas."
A separate room in the hotel was just for the horticulture division, which is like a "beauty pageant for flowers," according to Sandra Markus, also a member of the Winchester-Clarke group and horticulture chairwoman. "I've showed horses before, and coming to a garden show is a lot like that because everyone's got their grooming boxes, brushes and things to give their flowers a bath ... this is serious competition."
Contestants can indicate which side of the flower they want to face the judges by placing a sticker on that part of the pot.
"It's like preparing it to pose for a picture," Markus said. While there are different categories of flowers, one in particular beat out the almost 200 entries for the Best in Show title: a white Verda - or 'dinner plate' - Dahlia.
"There are definitely flowers here that are pretty magnificent, but that Verda is over the top," she said. Winners in their perspective categories receive a coveted ribbon or certificate. Plants have to be grown without pesticides, and must pass a "pre-judging" group that checks for endangered species, dirt and bugs.
Gilpin said an immense amount of detail goes into each entry, which isn't something new to garden shows. However, in recent years she said she has noticed that the Garden Club of America has focused more on conservation and education.
"This is the first year that those exhibits are being judged," she said. "We've got the horticulture and the artistic displays, but the conservation and education is really coming to the forefront."
The Winchester-Clarke group submitted an exhibit on how coffee grounds can be helpful when it comes to gardening.
"We come up with a new idea each month as a group," she said. "We do something very small that makes a big difference."
After the show is finished Thursday, the flowers won't go to waste.
"Most are taken to a nursing home, hospital, churches," Markus said. "All the ones that are fresh, we find a place for."