Howard McCall’s passion for floriculture can be traced back to his grandmother, who used to take a freshly cut flower to her church in Oklahoma every Sunday without fail.
McCall’s mother continued the tradition, so he began working in her flower beds at a very young age.
The flower show is organized by the Council of Albuquerque Gardens, according to the show’s superintendent, Mary Noskin. Everything is set up and run by volunteers from the local chapters of the National Garden Clubs.
“It comes naturally. I used to compete at the garden contest in Lea County and they’d always have a big 4-H garden contest, and I won it nearly every year,” McCall said. “I love growing things.”
McCall fell in love with floriculture later in his life, after visiting Victoria, Canada, known as the “City of Gardens.” He was inspired by the beauty of the Butchart gardens, and thought he could do something like that in his home garden.
Out of the 275 different dahlias McCall planted for this year’s flower show, he brought 35 for the contest’s first day. He was awarded ribbons for six of his dahlias Wednesday and six of his other flowers also received honors, ranging from tall gladioli to vibrant celosias.
McCall said he begins growing his prize flowers several months in advance each year.
Suzy Andrego and Kathleen Flanders, two of the show’s judges, said they evaluate the appearance of the flowers using a point system. Any imperfection could detract points from a grower’s score.
“Fresh, free of bugs, free of damage, no scratches, no bug bites, no rips, no tears.” Andrego said. “If you have the most perfect rose, that would get a hundred points, and you work backwards from there.”
It takes about three years to become a professional flower judge, Andrego says.
Both she and Flanders are certified by the National Garden Clubs. The certification requires continuous education to remain a judge.
For Andrego and Flanders, judging flowers is part of their lifestyle. They travel the country as volunteers to judge flower shows, although they mostly do it around New Mexico.
“I was just judging the Bi-County Fair last Friday in Prewitt and some other people went to judge the Artesia fair in Eddy County,” Andrego said.
Aside from growing competitions, flower enthusiasts can also participate in a design competition.
According to Andrego, flowers and greenery used in design entries don’t need to be grown by the participants. Instead, this category is judged on the artistic quality of the arrangement.
“You don’t have to grow those flowers, you can just buy them and do your design,” Flanders said.
It’s not too late to compete, Noskin said, adding that people who want to participate should show up between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on the morning of a show day to submit their entries. Two more standard shows are set for Sept. 12 and Sept. 15.
Saturdays are reserved for youth shows, in which children ages 4 to 18 can enter the plants and flowers they’ve grown. There will also be a youth design competition.
The flower exhibits will be on display throughout the fair, even outside of the show days and times.
“I’m just such a competitor, and I’ve been coming to the state fair since I was 12 years old in 1962,” McCall said. “I just absolutely fell in love with it.”