Exhibiting Old Garden Roses (OGR's) is not as difficult as many people believe. You will need a good spray regimen or organic cleansing program as you would with other roses, and the feeding schedule will be less for OGR's, except for the heavy bloomers. OGR's generally do not like heavy fertilization and will produce vegetative centers, such as with Marchesa Boccella. It is almost impossible to prune for bloom for OGR's because they bloom whenever they are ready, although some varieties, like Souvenir de la Malmaison, Irene Watts [which is now reclassed as a floribunda], and Rose de Rescht never seem to be out of bloom.
The first step in exhibiting OGR's is to acquire good, strong show varieties like those named above. You don't want to purchase a lot of Tea roses with weak necks unless you are planning to make a bouquet or English Box. Check your local rose show and the Rose Exhibitors' Quarterly to see which OGR's seem to be winning all of the prizes at rose shows. Many of the smaller OGR's, like Francis Dubreuil, Pink Pet, Green Rose, and Archduke Charles, can be grown in large pots.
Since there are so many different types of OGR's, judging is not cut and dry and it really comes down to what's typical for that variety. To accomplish this, judges need to be familiar with old garden roses and honestly, few are. For this purpose, more OGR Judging Seminars are being held. At a seminar in LaCañada, California, we instructed the judges on identifying typical characteristics of each class by using actual examples, displayed the most common rose varieties, and explained what to look for to determine a good and superior specimen for each variety. We also held test judging throughout the day, and explained why one rose was better than another.
When you have a prize-winning rose bloom starting to form, you may have to decide whether to disbud or not. This is totally up to the rose exhibitor. If the sidebuds enhance the overall appearance of the rose bloom, then leave them on. If the sidebuds distort or hang precariously out in space, remove them. Antique roses are not required to be disbudded, so it's a judgment call. OGR's may be shown as one bloom per stem (with or without sidebuds) or as a spray; there is no preference for one or the other.
Sometimes OGR's have short stems, and for this reason they are allowed to be shown with a stem-on-stem condition. There are two types of stem-on-stem. The dog-leg is where the new growth emerges at an angle from an older cane. A stop-start condition is where the newer growth starts from the point where the old growth ended. The latter is seen as a series of rings around the rose cane. Multiple stem-on-stems are not allowed at this time. The bottom line is, when you have a stem-on-stem condition, it will be downgraded according to the degree of impairment, and will lose to one without the condition when all other things are considered equal. Another condition closely related to stem-on-stem is laterals. Laterals are side growths usually emanating from a cane that has been pegged over. Generally, a number of laterals on one rose stem makes a poor exhibit since each lateral growth could be a separate entry. The only exception is when the corymb originates directly from the cane, such as with Rosa banksiae, which is the only way this rose can be shown.
When you are ready to go to the rose show, plan to cut your old garden roses as close to show time as possible. Some OGR's, like Georg Arends, do not make good cut flowers and will fall apart quickly. Learn how long your varieties can last after being cut. A comment often made by judges in our area is to "kick the table, and the OGR with any petals left is the winner." Of course, this is not true of many rose varieties. Baronne Prévost and Souvenir de la Malmaison are good cut flower roses. You can try to refrigerate your OGR's, but many will blue quickly like La Reine Victoria. Once again, test your roses to see how long they last before they blue or blow.
Because of the high petal count of many OGR's, grooming is simple. If you have a damaged petal, remove it; no one will know. Careful trimming of the petal will not be noticed among the sea of petals. One thing the judges will be looking for is the freshness of the rose bloom. There are two places the rose judges will look: at the rose stamens, and at the rose petals in back of the bloom. The back petals should be carefully removed if they are damaged or not fresh. Most of the time you can't see the stamens, so the judges will depend on the back petals when checking for freshness, especially if the variety has very fine or crinkled petals such as Mrs. R.G. Sharman-Crawford.
Cleaning the foliage of Old Garden Roses, antique roses, or heritage roses is the same as other roses. Remove all critters and evidence of disease or sprays. This becomes increasingly difficult for the heavily-mossed varieties such as Deuil de Paul Fontaine. Preventative spraying will help with Moss roses. Some OGR's naturally have sparse foliage and you'll have to stage them the best you can.
In almost all cases, the perfect phase for exhibiting old garden roses is fully-open, and symmetrical. Many of the Tea roses have fleeting Hybrid Tea form, as the blooms quickly blow open. There are a few Tea roses, like Catherine Mermet and Souvenir d'un Ami, and some of the later Hybrid Perpetuals such as Madame Gabriel Luizet, that hold the Hybrid Tea form and should be shown this way.