Houston Rodeo Horticulture Competition Shows Off Beauty and Wildlife

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For many, the word "horticulture" evokes memories of biology class and the geeky side of the plant world: scientific classifications, pH balances and the like. However, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's Horticulture program is much more interesting than it might sound on the surface. It's a collection of programs with plenty of practical life applications. Just about everyone can benefit from understanding what makes for a good photo or how to set an attractive table for a party.

Horticulture chairperson Donna Webster says, "We were just a group of volunteers and started as a task force in 2012. We started talking with anyone who had an interest in this industry so we could get the word out about what we were doing." There was, in fact, so much interest that in 2014, an official committee was created.

The program has five major areas. The top competitor in each wins $1,000, the second-place scorer receives $750 and there are smaller monetary prizes for others who place.

Rodeo Cup Competition: Each participant gets the same vase and the same bucket of flowers and greenery to work with. The theme for this year is "Trophies of Texas." Contestants will bring a prop to use in an arrangement that is reminiscent of Texas wildlife, fish, game or other animals. There's an interpretative aspect to the competition, too. Competitors are given a surprise theme, such as "wedding bouquet," for example, and allotted a certain amount of time to execute their designs.

Photography Competition and Show: Most of the 300 entries in this competition are by young people, although there's an adult competition as well. The theme this year is "Cowpokes, Crossroads and Coastlines." Webster advises, "You better have some horticulture there, too!" since coastlines are home to many interesting kinds of plants that have adapted to living in the sandy and rocky conditions.

Container Gardening: Before the competition, entrants submit a list online of three or more plants that they plan to raise together in a terrarium or other container. They cultivate their living artworks and bring the results to the competition to be judged.

Landscaping: The challenge is to design a "miniscape" within one of the six-foot-by-six-foot planters around NRG Center. Competitors are told there's already a bottlebrush tree in the center of each planter. From there, they are responsible for bringing their own plants to fill the planters out in an artistic fashion. Due to the cost of the plants, the competition is underwritten to a certain degree to encourage schools to participate. Webster says, "People can stop by our planters, eat, rest their feet and watch the people go by." Exhibitors can enter as individuals or as teams.

Dining With Texas Flair: The challenge is to create a Texas-themed "tablescape." Competitors start with nothing but a table and a burlap cloth and must create a design that incorporates a place setting and a floral arrangement. Webster says, "Some of our past competitors have been extremely creative. One year, there was a bee-and-honeycomb design. Others decorate all in reds, whites and blues."

Visit the second floor of NRG Center to view the work of these talented artists; also be sure to visit the landscape entries in Kids Country.

Other Horticulture exhibits include the soil display in the Agventure area, where attendees can see denizens of the earth, such as bugs, spiders and ants. Interested in saving on your water bill? Check out the rainwater harvesting exhibit.

Finally, those with pesky plant problems or other gardening questions can get some answers from one of the Harris County master gardeners who will be on hand.

Visitors will likely find the Horticulture exhibits this year to be as thought-provoking as they are eye-opening works of art.

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