After 40 years - rethinking my place in the world of orchids

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I used to show Weimaraners... and I thought it was a race to the bottom of the intelligence ladder between them and Irish Setters in the gundog group... :)

But would still never trade them in for any other breed... They kind of addictive like paphs... :cool:

Aww I love both those breeds. A real Irish Setter is both brilliant and physically incomparable. I have known two such dogs in my family.
Our first Irish Setter was the runt of the litter and smart as a whip. The second was a show dog, was sweet as he could be but didn’t have two brain cells to rub together.

We graduated to Border Collies, which are at the top of the intelligence scale, and now have a miniature dachshund. Nota dummy by any means, but nowhere near the smarts of a BC.
I'm glad to see this thread took a turn toward civility and dogs. Here's a shot of my favorite canine companion; Ch. Myla's Mission Impossible (Nickname : Cruise or Cruisey or Cruiser or a myriad of other names he responds to. Pets, especially dogs, are our salvation in this crazy woke world; at the end of the day, they teach us how to act.


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This is a very interesting thread. I too am in the judging system (on 3rd year) and can sympathize with your frustrations. Many of the issues that you have are the same issues here and at all the other JC’s. There are cliques, bad players, “good old boys clubs”, but also so great folks who are willing to help and encourage you. Like you, I have been growing orchids since single digits and now approaching 48 next month. But there is always room to learn something new.

I know that I’ve said too much and I also know that judges in my JC will likely read this. And if they take issue with this thread, thats on them. The judging system IS a fossil and DOES need to be re-evaluated. The status quo is NOT working and things need to change if they want fresh blood to carry the AOS into the future.
The whole round-circle, make-every-exotic-orchid-a-fricking-daisy judging standard “aesthetic” is pathetic. Orchids should be reproduced to look like they look in nature, with all its variations and whims. Fortunately, I see that nonsense inevitably dying out.
Again, you are off on your assessment to some degree. We do not judge all Cattleyas on fullness on roundness. For the past 50 years or so, more and more judges are evaluating Cattleyas by using 2 different point scales. Big Cattleyas like Goldenzelle or Bob Betts are evaluated using the Cattleya point scale, 30 points for Form, 30 points for Color and 40 points for size, substance and floriferousness. So the notion that the system favors full round flowers that are”perfect circles” only is just part of the story. In fact, on the score sheet, perfect form is worth only 30 total points. That is far short of the 75 needed for an HCC.
For other Cattleyas like Mouning Glory, Why Not, Little Stars, that can not stand up to a Bob Betts for fullness and roundness, a Different scale is applied. They are much too star shaped or open in form. For them we do not judge using the Cattleya scale, we should use the General Scale. (Any orchid can be judged using the General Scale) but all in all we have currently 10 different point scales that we regularly use.

But if we were to create a score sheet to accommodate every type of orchid, it would not be a score sheet, it would be a scoring book! Unwieldy and too bulky to use.

The Paphiopedilums are inherently judged with a similar problem. You can not judge ALL Paphiopedilums by the Paph. Point scale. You can’t compare a big, single flowered Paph. Like Winston Churchill on the same point scale as a multi floral Paph. Rothschildianum hybrid. In my opinion the Paph. Scale is used for a Winston Churchill and the Roth. Type things should be pointed based on the General point scale where arrangement and floriferousness count for more points.

And when you come right down to it to better utilize your example, we DO NOT judge a Cattleya maxima as if it was a Blc. Normans Bay! We compare it to other Cattleya maximas!
To condemn a system you are not fully aware of is short sighted in my opinion.
The judging system is not a fossil!
It does not need to be put on the scrap heap.

By fact and results, you can think of the judging system as a living entity. Always changing, always growing, the standards are changing. Things that were awarded 15-20 years ago might not get the same award today. They might not even be awardable at all.
And as I pointed out, the judging standards change over time. They are not stagnant in need of a complete overhaul.
I have been in the judging program for almost 20 years. The only reason I do it is that our group (California Sierra Nevada Judging Center) gets along very well and we have fun. If it wasn't fun I wouldn't do this. I have judged all over the country and there are other groups that are great to be around, and some that are less enjoyable. Politics, personality conflicts...these things are unavoidable when you get groups of people together. If you are lucky enough to get with a group that has very few personality conflicts you are lucky.

The one issue I see is training. There are a minimum number of hours of training required, but the training you receive at each center is different. The AOS has an opportunity for improvement here. There should be some uniform training programs. I am way too busy to offer any help to the AOS, and from what I have seen at the judges forum at AOS Members Meetings a few people dominate the conversation so I'm not sure everyone gets heard. Once you get to the national level there are a small number of people who do most of the heavy lifting.

Becoming accredited is a long process and requires a serious time commitment. I was the youngest judge at our center from its inception until last year! Most people with kids simply can't devote the time, so we end up with students in their 50's and 60's. The biggest problem I see nationally is the slow demise of the local orchid society. Covid really did some damage here. Local societies are where people get their start and get exposed to AOS judging at shows. I am VP of the Sacramento Orchid Society and I have challenged our new board with the goal of seeing a steady increase in attendance to our monthly meetings. Pre-covid we had 60-80 attendees every month. Now we have about 30-35. If the local societies die off, so will the AOS judging program. Local societies need to re-engage old members, and recruit new and younger members.

Very thoughtful response Dave! Thank you for sharing your opinion and experience!
With over 30 judging centers uniform training would be hard to impose, I think.
But let me say that with over 30 centers, there just has to be some differences.
Very thoughtful response Dave! Thank you for sharing your opinion and experience!
With over 30 judging centers uniform training would be hard to impose, I think.
But let me say that with over 30 centers, there just has to be some differences.
There will always be differences among centers, especially when certain areas see more of one particular genus or group due to climate or a nearby nursery.
Paph rothschildianum is a good example. When the last generation of OZ roths hit our area, CSNJC and Pacific Central gave out a few FCC's and several high AM's over a short period. Our centers overlap quite a bit, especially in show season. Since we saw so many roths our judges were able to recognize lesser quality plants fairly easily. If a 'nice' roth came to the table there was enough familiarity to give a lower score or screen it. A team in a region that sees one roth every few years might give that same plant an AM. Measurements and photos aside, the species has a 'WOW' factor. Even relatively average quality flowers have an impact if you don't see them in person often.
After we saw so many good roths, our training coordinator had me put together a program on resetting the standards for roths. You can't just keep giving lateral awards. Soon after the training meeting our judges gave an 80 point AM/AOS to a very nice roth that would have likely scored about 85. Maybe that was too much of a 'correction' but standards do have to change. The next generation of roths will be even better and we can't give them all 99 points.

I refer to those plants and their awards as gilding the Lily. Paph. St. Swithin is another one. Crosses or species with 50, 100, even 200 awards get to be hard to consider for yet another award! But it does happen.
Increased flower count helps, I personally like greater petal width in a Roth. I also like good petal stance or presentation.
The dorsal sepals in my mind have greatly improved as well.

Unfortunately I really miss Sam Tsui. He really had some gorgeous things. I have ordered some gorgeous things from you as well. I am under lights now and I only have so much room.
I have gone small Phrag. crazy along with fragrant novelty Phalaenopsis. I sure hope to meet you some day!
Ok so I am going to weigh in but some may not like it. Firstly judges are judging other peoples plants and have no vested interest in whether a plant is awarded and must excuse themselves if a conflict exists, unlike the owner or grower who has a vested interest. I can only speak for myself, but have been judging for 25 years, have travelled to shows and judgings in vastly different settings and cultures. At 73, I spend hours weekly researching and becoming aware of orchid shows, awards, and breeding results in Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Europe, Australia, South America and North America. Some judges have natural talent and others have to learn to judge, hence the 6 year training time. I have an artistic, mathematical background and can readily see form, color, vigor, charm, texture, suffusion, balance. symmetry, and all the necessary elements that create quality in a flower, and I can openly articulate both the good and the not so, with anyone, and I mean anyone. As a grower, I can also, appreciate how difficult it is to get a plant to award quality. I take pride in the fact that I have acquired plants that have been available to many, but am able to grow the plant well enough culturally to get it successfully awarded, and have done this several times. It is easy to sit on the bench and form opinion from a safe distance but as Yogi Berra said' you can observe a lot by watching'. If you want to be better at understanding why an orchid is or is not awarded or awardable, perhaps sit in on a judging event. I am proud to be an AOS judge, and am quite secure in my capability. Oh, and for the dog people, I will have to dig out pics on my Champion Visla , Field Dog, but below is a pick of a better known David Bryan with a visla.


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I'm glad to see this thread took a turn toward civility and dogs. Here's a shot of my favorite canine companion; Ch. Myla's Mission Impossible (Nickname : Cruise or Cruisey or Cruiser or a myriad of other names he responds to. Pets, especially dogs, are our salvation in this crazy woke world; at the end of the day, they teach us how to act.
Yes I agree, dogs and orchids go well together. Here we have Kiko, Paph. Rosy Egret and PCV. Key Lime Stars.


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As I have traveled, on rare occasion I have had the opportunity to observe judging at various locations.

Extending Dave’s comments a bit, familiarity - or more precisely, lack thereof - is another issue in judging.

A center located in a particularly warm part of the world is more likely to see vandas than is one where it’s colder, just because fewer will be grown there. I have observed awards given based upon “rarity” that simply shouldn’t have been. Fortunately, I suspect that is a rarity unto itself, as that team appeared to be “people pleasing” rather than judging.

Training is the key, and writing it off because it will be difficult is giving up. To me, that points out that it is an even greater need.
Thanks everyone for the continued good feedback.

A final thought to recap and address some of the more recent posts at a high level,

Given the very nature of what the AOS Judging system is- namely a select group of highly trained individuals working in a somewhat insular fashion to confer formally documented praise on a specific, and very small, subset of a large population that materially affects the financial value of the items on which such praise is lavished, it is only natural that at all times there will be temptations to abuse power by a limited few as well as perceptions of such from those on the outside of such abuse- along with direct and very real observations of actual abuse. That is just reality and it will never change.

The problem is that the program has been shrinking dramatically in size for years and in some arenas has lost a certain prestige. Paphs are a prime example- these days a medal in Tokyo is the gold standard, not an AOS award. These are factual statements that cannot be disputed and are evidenced in declining numbers of judges in the case of the former, and the much higher general going rate for rothschildianum seedlings sired by GM and SM winners versus FCC and AM winners in the case of the latter.

I think a certain amount of shrinkage comes from external factors that cannot be directly overrided including the mainstream commercialization of the hobby which has depressed prices to serve a larger audience thus reducing the relative overall interest in high end breeding programs, and a general rejection of thoroughbred products as a sign of elitism combined with a desire to rescue poor downtrodden NO-ID plants (just like you see with dogs and the pro-rescue, anti-breeder movements),.

However, even with these factors in play- there is still a core of serious growers out there plus a growing audience that will someday yield additional serious growers. And more and more of these growers are eschewing orchid societies and AOS judging, even some of us who have been around a very long time. The blame for that can lie in only one place.

I do not think the system needs a major adjustment. I have heard recent rumblings of reducing the training time- but assuming those rumors are true, I think that would also be a mistake. It is an attitude adjustment that is needed, plus a more centralized process and a more aggressive move to remove people who repeatedly demonstrate a lack of regard for the rules with conduct that is clearly deliberately malicious in nature.

I am not averse to coming back someday, and I just hope there is something vibrant and viable to come back to because the AOS Judging program is essential to the ongoing promotion of maintaining an accurate record of the history of our hybrids, the encouragement for people to master the art of orchid growing- not just bring things into flower and keep them alive, and to bestow praise upon those who endeavor to expand and build on the beauty of orchids through selective hybridization.
It is very interesting to read this thread. Hearing many perspectives of personal experiences with the AOS judging system, both positive and negative, is a good avenue to acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of an institution whose primary goal is to serve the orchid public and to encourage better orchids, both species and hybrids.

As a newly minted accredited AOS judge who has gone through the training program, I have experienced more drama in 6 years than my 25 plus years of orchid growing. Everything that everyone has said, I have seen, heard and experienced. I have met both great inspiring judges and some not so. I have been praised as well as yelled at. I have been put under some situations that I thought was unfair but that eventually was understandable and sorted out for the best outcome.

Despite all that, and with a full practice, I persevered because of several reasons:

1. First, I have been fortunate that the training program in my center is top notch with many knowledgeable and inspiring judges. They have taught me and guided me to be who I am as a judge today. In fact, our training coordinator is working on systemizing the National AOS Training (so that is a good change worth noting). This training has allowed me to research for talks on orchids (with world experts) that are still on my lecture circuit that educates the public on their love of those particular orchids that are highlighted (eg. cuths, venustums, indigos). The research expanded my knowledge far beyond what I knew as a layperson particularly on genetics of color inheritance and taxonomy. This training has given me the confidence to even consider speaking at the WOC next year. Note that most judging centers are as good too. Not all are bad.

2. Second, through my association with the AOS, I have travelled to many out of region shows and met many wonderful people who become lifelong friends (other judges, hobbyists, scientists, etc). Through them, I have been fortunate enough to see private collections and orchids in their native habitats. It has opened up doors for me in US, Colombia, Brazil, Japan and WOCs. How else was I able to see the Emperor and Empress of Japan walk by but at the Japan Grand Prix Show as a judge there? Or the First Lady of Ecuador asking your compatriot about an orchid beside you?

3. Third, as a judge you get firsthand view of the flower in front of you. This is after all a flower club and to see a rare or stunning orchid up close and personal is a perk of the job. And to be the team that awarded it tops it all for me. A high really. I remember giving the first FCC in Medellin, Colombia to a Bulbophyllum, as well as the most recent two in Cali, Colombia (Cattleya trianae 'Pink Hippos' FCC/AOS and Stanhopea tigrina var nigroviolacea 'Black Widow' FCC/AOS). Unforgettable moments define these experiences that I would never have experienced if not for AOS.

For these reasons above (and probably much more), I am happy that I stuck it through and grateful such an institution exists to teach me the necessary skills to do what I love. It may not be for everyone because every center is different, but it may be for some that stick to their guns. Many times I had to swallow my pride and carry on. And trust me, the exit door was beguiling me many many moments (I did walk out once but that's another story).

Although the perceived staunched hierarchy system was set and undeviating, there are movements in HQ that are slowly becoming transparent and inclusive. The administration is well aware of the aforementioned problems in this thread as they are historically common ailments in the system, and are/may work on policies to hopefully remedy these problems through education and awareness ventures. In addition, a generation of new blood has joined several different AOS committees and they are very forward thinking with new and novel ideas. Perhaps those here that want change within the system can volunteer for positions in the AOS committees to forward the improvement they want to see. One doesn't need to be a judge to join some of these committees (eg affiliated societies). Just message the AOS and they will elaborate the details and requirements.

I know not everyone may agree with my thoughts and experiences. But that has been my journey of sweat, tears and joy. And I wouldn't change anything ... 'what doesn't break me, makes me stronger'.

A final note. I asked myself years ago what I wanted to do when I retired. One answer came up repeatedly:

'To travel the world and see/judge orchids. '

That is my dream and it has become my reality. ;) Well, that and my first slipper FCC I grew under lights!!

I imagine myself a modern day orchid adventurer where a stranger finding me fussing in the middle of the deep Congo might ask the legendary question ‘Dr. Ee, I presume?!’
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