Plan and Stage a Competitive Exhibit

This page is one of a set of guidelines aimed at helping competitors.

These BB&O guidelines include extracts from the NAFAS Competitions Manual (Fourth Edition 2023) and NAFAS Plant Material in all its Forms, presented in a way that makes it easy for competitors to understand.  For official information readers are advised to also refer the following NAFAS publications:

This page gives advice on Choosing Your class(es)Planning and practising your exhibit, Avoiding Common FaultsStaging your Exhibit and Dismantling

Choose Your class(es) carefully 

Show schedules may be printed and made available to prospective competitors at other events, or sent by post to past competitors.  Increasingly show schedules are available for download from relevant websites.

Before you choose your class(es) you should first read the show schedule carefully. Seek advice from the Competitions Secretary if you have any queries. Select a class (or classes) which inspires you, and which you think is within your capability.  A dictionary, Thesaurus, other reference books and the internet may be helpful in deciding how to interpret a class title.

Be practical about what you can achieve in the specified staging time in terms of the type and number of classes you choose to enter.  Be prepared to state second or third choice of class if your preferred class is full.

Ensure you will be able to transport components you intend to use, especially if they are specified as a requirement.

Plan and practise your exhibit

Look at books, magazines and the internet for inspiration for a design.

Trial the mechanics to give you confidence that they will work

Practise techniques to give yourself confidence that they can be effective and can be achieved in the time allowed.  Practice sessions will also provide a reasonable estimate of quantities of materials that will be required. Some techniques are very time-consuming so time should be allowed to do as much preparation as much as possible ahead of time.

Make a list of all the components you will need to take.

Understand and Avoid Common Faults

To maximise the chances of gaining an award it is worth noting the most common faults in show work:

  • Failure to read and comply with the show schedule
  • Failure to comply with the definitions defined in this NAFAS Competitors Manual
  • Poor use of the elements and principles of design
  • Poor interpretation of the class title
  • Poor workmanship and presentation
  • Failure to stage the required style
  • Failure to incorporate a specified component
  • Failure to include a title if stipulated
  • Plant material not predominating
  • Wilting or poorly conditioned fresh plant material
  • Lack of harmony in components
  • Badly painted, poorly constructed or dominant backgrounds or bases
  • Creased, stained, dominant or unsuitably coloured bases or drapes
  • Inappropriate use of accessories, eg: out of scale; scattered rather than appropriately integrated in the design
  • Under-filling, over-filling or poor use of space allowed

Be aware of reasons for disqualification (Not according to Schedule):

  • Failure to comply with any specific requirements of a class as stated in the show schedule, eg: measurements or components
  • Inclusion of artificial plant material unless specifically allowed in the show schedule. Christmas classes should normally state whether or not artificial plant material is allowed.
  • Inclusion of fresh plant material that will not remain turgid for the duration of the show. Normally this means roots or cut stem ends are not in water or water retaining material.  See  Understand Plant Material for further clarification.

Stage your Exhibit

Load tools and components into the car as much in advance as practical, and plan the route to arrive in good time.

When all competitors arrive at the same time there may be congestion at the unloading point, so allow time for hold-ups and moving your vehicle to an alternative parking area.

Help may be available with unloading but you should normally be prepared to move all your equipment yourself.  A portable trolley may be useful.  Disabled competitors, or those who have particular difficulty moving equipment should contact the show organisers beforehand to request special help.

Restrict your materials and working area to your allotted space so as not to hamper other competitors.

Ensure the exhibit has sufficient water to maintain the fresh plant material in good condition, but also take care that water does not leak from the exhibit.

Take a dustpan and brush and allow time to tidy the work area around your exhibit, and remove rubbish.

When the exhibit is complete check that it is staged within the space allowed.  It is a good idea to take a photograph and review this – it may highlight aspects of the design which could be improved.  It is also a good idea, if time allows, to go away (for a coffee say) then come back and review.  This often helps you see things from a new perspective.

Before leaving place your exhibitor’s card face down on your staging space.  If supplied, and appropriate, leave the card with watering instructions for stewards on your staging space.

Be considerate and sociable to fellow competitors, and show courtesy towards show officials, stewards and judges.

Leave the competitions area PROMPTLY at the end of staging

Water and plant material should be replenished as necessary and as permitted by the show schedule.


Ensure that either you or a nominated deputy is available to dismantle the exhibit at the specified time.  Plastic rubbish bags are often provided.  Otherwise take all components and rubbish away with you.