Amid the carnival rides, games and food trucks, a horticultural gathering of national importance takes place each year at the Coastal Carolina Fair.

Every fall, the Council of Garden Clubs of Greater Charleston hosts the largest flower show in the southeast. The Charleston Flower Show has won national awards for 53 consecutive years, making it the top flower show in the state.

The “show” is actually two standard flower shows during the fair, and each consists of three divisions: horticulture, design, and special exhibits. The theme of this year’s show is “The Art of Flowers”.

While the flower designs are artistic and precise, I am drawn to the diverse horticulture entries on display.

The horticulture division offers gardeners the opportunity to enter everything from lush hanging baskets, container grown plants, family heirlooms such as Christmas cactus and night-blooming cereus as well as mounted staghorn ferns and orchids on driftwood.

Clear bottles hold the most delicate roses, perfect camellias, various perennial flowers, and fall foliage. Also on display are branches, berries and fruit. This year, a new section has been added for epiphytes, or “air plants.”

Why do gardeners enter specimens into the flower show?

Trish Bender, flower show chairman, says “it’s an opportunity to educate the public about what grows best in our area.”

Bender added that it’s a great way to connect with other gardeners and show off gardening skills to more than 250,000 visitors.

An added plus is that winners receive ribbons, cash prizes and bragging rights.

Before you begin, you will need the official flower show book, which has all the rules and information.

You can download it online from www.coastalcarolina or stop by the Exchange Park for a free copy. As you read it, notice there are 26 categories for the Horticulture Division.

These “sections” cover just about anything you might want to show.

For example, if you have a rosemary plant, you would enter a cutting into Section N, the Herb Section named a “A Moment in Thyme,” Class 72-Rosmarinus (Rosemary). A clear glass bottle will be provided to place a cutting of no more than 30 inches. And, you will fill out an official tag to label your specimen.

Each entry must be properly labeled, making identification tags a critical step for show entry.

Do your homework before you arrive, but if you are still unclear as to the scientific name of your entry, a group of horticulturists, Clemson Master Gardeners and flower show veterans will be there to help.

Enter as many different species as you like, but long-time flower show pros recommend saving time by bringing along preprinted address labels.

One important rule for entering the show, the material must have been grown by you for more than 90 days, so start those seeds and cuttings now, if you haven’t already!

There are two shows during the fair. The first show runs Oct. 31-Nov. 4. Entries may be delivered between 1 and 4 p.m. Oct. 30 or between 6:30-10 a.m. Oct. 31.

The second show runs Nov. 5-10. Entries may be brought in 7:30-11 a.m. Nov. 5 only.

To avoid the spread of diseases and pests, cut specimens are disposed of on-site; container-grown plants will be returned to owners.

Encourage young gardeners to enter cut specimens in the regular horticulture division or show their potted plants in the “Youth Horticulture Exhibits.” This category showcases container-grown specimens nurtured by youngsters for at least 60 days.

Youths may decorate the pots to fit the theme, but only the horticulture will be judged.

Horticulture is both an art and a science, and the two come together through the collective work of local gardeners at the annual flower show.

We are lucky to have a group of dedicated garden club members who work so hard to educate, preserve and showcase the best horticulture in the Lowcountry.

Even if you don’t enter this year, stop by and enjoy the horticultural works of art.

For more information on entering your garden specimens, contact Show Co-Chairman Scotty Yensen at

Amy L. Dabbs is the urban horticulture extension agent and Tri-County Master Gardener coordinator for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension. Send questions to