Flower Show Tips
Lots of flower shows are coming up, and it's fun to enter Rhododendron trusses and plants. If you're after winning, there are some "tricks of the trade" that help. First of all, you have to read the instructions for the show. That's where you find information about the time to place your exhibits, how they are to be presented and the different show categories available. Once you've got that information, start watching your plants for likely candidates. I like to keep an eye on things starting about two weeks ahead of a show, but in the end, it comes down to what looks good on the day entries are picked to be entered. Often, the "perfect" truss is not quite ready or too far gone. C'est la vie in the world of flower shows.
With trusses, if at all possible, choose one from the top of the plant so that the truss is full and balanced on all sides. Sometimes there isn't any choice available and you have to take one from the side of the plant, but if this is the case, take the fullest truss you can find and the one with the most flowers possible. Most of the flowers should be open, but if the topmost buds have good bud colour even though they haven't quite opened, that's o.k., and in some cases can work to your advantage. Usually you have to place your entries in a show anywhere from 6 to 12 hours before the actual judging happens, so the topmost buds might open while sitting on the show table. Hopefully the show hall will be cool, but sometimes it isn't, and then you're faced with having a truss that's too far past its peak by the time the judges come along.
To prepare, each truss needs careful grooming. I use forceps to remove any bits of bract that may have fallen in between the flowers. When it comes to leaves, it's really nice to have a ring of leaves up near the flowers, sort of like a green collar. But, sometimes the leaves are ratty looking and then there's the conundrum of whether to remove them or not. Before snipping, I like to check the show catalogue to see if there's any statement about leaves needed in the presentation or not. Then, depending on what's permissable, sometimes I leave them on, sometimes I remove them.... it usually comes down to a gut feeling at the moment as to what will make the truss look its best, but generally, judges like to see some leaves. The base of the stems get cut on a sharp angle and immediately inserted into tepid water. Fresh cut stems absorb warm water faster than cold water.
Different groups use different containers for their shows, so... read the show instructions. You at least need to balance the vase size with the truss size and you also have to come up with some way of getting the flowers to sit up-right in the vase and not flop all over. Locally, lots of us use clean beer bottles, labels removed of course, (and if you need bottles, it gives you a good excuse to drink beer). These work well for fairly large trusses since the bottles are heavy enough to sit securely on the bench and the narrow neck holds the stems up-right. Sometimes though, the trusses need a bit of help and something has to be inserted into the neck of the bottle to hold the stem in position. Anything you can think of that is unobtrusive is good. Some people use small bits of florist oasis, others use wine corks that are sliced in half (an excuse to drink wine) - use whatever you can think of. Trusses of the small rhodies can get lost in a beer bottle, so look around for little bottles (old spice bottles aren't bad), and again, get the trusses inserted into water quickly.
Trusses need to be labelled and put into the correct class. Fill in the information needed for each entry and hopefully you know the correct variety name. However, if you don't, just make sure the truss goes into the right category, like red flowered, or trusses under 6 ", where ever it fits. Sometimes someone will recognise your unknown variety and identify it for you. As well, there are usually people around to help you figure out where to put things - just ask. That's all there is to it. The judges do the rest of the work and you get to come back later to see a hall filled with colour, and maybe you'll come home with a ribbon or two.