Some Thoughts on Judging a Rhododendron Show
J. Harold Clarke
My experience in judging rhododendrons is limited to one Show which certainly does not qualify me to write as an expert. However, as I was going over the various classes in that Show, it seemed to me that certain things which might be discussed in the Bulletin would be of some value to judges and Show committees but more especially to exhibitors. I would not presume to write on this subject if I had not had previous experience in judging other types of (lowers and also other horticultural products over a period of many years.
Most people enjoy going to flower shows as spectators but once they start exhibiting they usually enjoy them more. Shows fill a real need, not only for those who are interested in the particular flower being featured, but for the public and community as a whole. The subject therefore warrants considerable study by prospective exhibitors, committee members, and judges. Ill feeling sometimes develops in flower shows with very slight provocation, but if each person sees the other's viewpoint, such unpleasant experiences can for the most part be eliminated. Before rushing in with their flowers, therefore exhibitors should study the schedules carefully and if there are questions it would be highly desirable to ask them before the morning of the Show when everyone is rushing to get things completed. Exhibitors might do well to practice a little judging of their own. It would be very simple to line up half a dozen or a dozen trusses, examine them-carefully for a few minutes and then try to place them in order of merit. This might open the exhibitor's eyes to a considerable extent.
Show Committee Responsibilities
The Local Committee which has the responsibility of arranging the Show is an important factor in assuring a good job of judging. It is up to this Committee to cooperate with exhibitors in seeing that the individual entries are properly labeled, classified, and arranged in the display space. The matter of classification, of course, is a difficult one as the total number of color classes which can be included in any Show is limited, whereas the total number of colors and color combinations is infinite. Any color classification, therefore, has to be a compromise. Probably the ideal method is to arbitrarily list all varieties likely to be entered in a special classification such as that prepared and used by the American Rhododendron Society in its Annual Shows. It is then simply a matter of entering each variety in its class according to the schedule. In small Shows it may he necessary to combine certain colors or classes into broader groups.
It is very desirable to have some member of the Local Committee work closely with the judges to answer questions and assure that no entries are overlooked. Consultation between judges and Committee is often helpful in bringing out the point of view of the particular Show. The Committee may be trying to improve the standards of the Show and want the judges to be especially hard boiled in enforcing the rules. If the desire of the Committee is to encourage more people to show, and if most of the exhibitors are beginners, then there might he a little different approach in the judging, although the actual placing of Awards will have to be on merit regardless of the particular type of Show.
Judges are of necessity forced to eliminate from competition any entries which are improperly made. If the Local Committee wants to take the responsibility of re-arranging or reclassifying, then that is their prerogative but that may not be feasible after the judging has started. In single truss classes, shoots which bear two or three trusses, although the result may he a very spectacular and beautiful cluster of flowers, should he disqualified as not meeting the requirements.
Varieties Should Be Labeled
Horticultural Shows should be educational and certainly visitors will enjoy the Show a great deal more if they can learn some new varieties, and they can do this only if the varieties are labeled correctly. Where correct labeling is a prerequisite as set forth in the rules, then any exhibits incorrectly labeled may he eliminated by the judges.
Where the A.R.S. classification is not being followed, the judges and exhibitors will face the problem of intermediate colors. If prizes are offered for red, pink, and white, many varieties will fall somewhere in between. Sometimes a variety of intermediate color may be entered in two classes such as a very pale pink appearing in a white class and also in a pink class. The judges simply have to use common sense in such situations.
At present there is no official score card for singly truss entries but it might he desirable if one could he prepared for use as a guide. Such score cards are seldom actually used for scoring, except perhaps in the selecting of trusses for very important prizes such as Sweepstakes or special cups. However, score cards do indicate to the exhibitor the relative importance the judges are going to attach to the various points, and it does give the judge a stable basis for his decisions.
It seems to me that the best job of judging might he done by a single well qualified judge. If a single judge is not well qualified, then it is certainly much better to have a team of perhaps three. However, where three judges work together there may he a tendency for one of them to be a little hastier and possibly stronger-willed than the others, and to make quick decisions which the other°s may, for various reasons, go along with without much of an argument.
The question sometimes arises as to the relative value of new versus old varieties. Some might he inclined to give a prize to a truss of a very new variety in preference to an old variety even though the old might he slightly superior in size, color, form, or condition. It would seem to me that where old varieties have the necessary qualities, they should not be penalized because they have been around for a long time.
The Problem of Group Varieties
In the case of the group varieties which we have in considerable numbers from the English breeders, there would seem to be more reason for giving a prize to an F.C.C. clone than to one without an Award unless it is actually a better truss. There is always the question, of course, as to whether a plant may actually have come from the particular cross which would give it the right, under English rules, to carry the group name. A particular entry might look quite different from the F.C.C. form and yet might or it might not he in that same group. which may raise problems which could not be settled to the satisfaction of everyone. Of course where really superior forms show up in American breeding, it would seem to be desirable that such forms be given names and propagated as clones. However, at the present time it would seem that the horticultural excellence of the particular form would he the determining factor and not any Awards which it may have received previously.
The classes for new seedlings are very important because they may determine whether or not a new variety is to be named and distributed. Judges should be quite critical in these classes and pass up prizes entirely where none of the seedlings are better than just average.
In straight classes where none of the entries are very good, some judges are inclined to award first prize anyway, whereas others are hard boiled and do not want to give any prizes unless the exhibits are really outstanding. Perhaps a middle of the road approach would be better. This is where consultation with the Local Committee as to their objectives in putting on the Show would help. However, the exhibitors who have gone to the trouble of bringing in the best they have, unless it is definitely sub-standard, should have some consideration.
Honorable Mention ribbons may he very useful. Not very often will they be needed in a class where a First, Second, and Third are being awarded anyway, except possibly in very large classes. Where there is no class in which a particular variety will fit and it is of superior merit, then Honorable Mention is a good way to handle the situation.
Basis for Judging Displays
Where large displays are included in the Show it is highly desirable that some type of a score card be printed in the schedule, or at least enough instructions so that exhibitor and judges will be looking at the thing from the same general standpoint. Many judges will make up a brief score card of their own for use in judging the displays if none is printed. In putting on a Rhododendron display to cover a given area, let us say 100 square feet, there should he no necessity of arranging the plant material in what might be called a good landscape form, although in very large exhibits that is often a good way to make the display. However, the area covered should be so arranged that all of the material blends into a pleasing whole. Some imagination on the part of an exhibitor will often permit him to win over another exhibitor who may have better plants and better varieties but simply lacks that artistic touch necessary for such a display. Of course some very artistic displays have such a meager amount of good plant material that the prize has to be given to another entry which has excellent plant material but is not so attractively arranged.
The Human Element
It might as well be recognized that in any decision the human element cannot be eliminated. Judges have individual preferences as to size, color, and a lot of other factors. For the most part they will do their best to subordinate these preferences and do an honest job of judging. However, there are many entries in practically every flower show where the decision is just about a toss-up. Two entries may he so nearly alike that if they were thoroughly scored the difference might be a mere fraction of a point. Judges who are being pressed for time cannot be censured for making a rather quick decision in cases like this, giving the Award to the one which at the moment strikes them the most favorably. However, three other judges just as competent might place the entries differently. Exhibitors should expect these things and not he unduly concerned when someone else gets the prize. The exhibitor's viewpoint should be that he will do the best he can to win ribbons but that he will not feel hurt if he loses.
It would be interesting to know how many people over this land spend many hours each summer judging Flower Shows, usually without compensation, and at considerable personal sacrifice. The number of competent judges is undoubtedly increasing all the time and the basis for judging is being studied and standardized more and more. For the most part, both judges and exhibitors are doing a good job and all that we can ask is that both take their job seriously, give it a little study, and try to see the viewpoint of the other. When that is done, Rhododendron Shows may be very pleasant experiences for all concerned.