Current show rules for the Massachusetts Chapter insist on rewarding trusses which have all their buds open, and penalizing those with unopened buds. The only exception to this rule is for R. yakushimanum and their hybrids, where up to a quarter of the buds may be unopened without penalty. Consider how marvelous yaks are with their deep bud colors and their lighter or white flowers. In the species deep pink fades to appleblossom and then to pure white. A truss showing all those colors simultaneously is a complex, fabulous sight. Think of R. 'Hello Dolly', a yak hybrid, with its rich apricot buds and pale peach flowers, with all the gradations of color in between from the different-age flowers. Rhodies other than yaks can have excellent color distinctions between bud and flower. Why shouldn't their trusses be allowed to show these?
Why are trusses with all open flowers "better" than ones with some unopened buds? Entering a fully opened truss limits one's selection and makes the process more difficult, but what else does it achieve? Life in New England is constantly challenging for a Rhodie grower and exhibitor; do we need a West Coast standard for show trusses?
I would like to argue for a change in this bud rule since the contrast between the buds and flowers of many rhodies other than yaks is also lovely. Think of R. fortunei and its offspring with that soft, twilight lavender in the buds setting off the opalescent pink or cool white of the flowers. Azaleas often have deeper bud color and benefit from the contrast. I have three R. arborescens x bakeri from Fred Knippel which have cloudy orange-red buds and cream-with-peach-and-yellow flowers that look marvelous together. There can also be a satisfying play of shapes in a truss with buds, especially in a very full truss, with the spiky unopened flowers making a textural contrast with the flatter, open blooms. Many bud forms are beautiful and interesting in their own right.
We should have a public debate among members to end up ultimately in the lap of the Judging Committee of the Chapter; proposed: that the aesthetic qualities of a mix of unopened buds and open flowers are so compelling that they should outweigh the importance of the difficulty of finding a perfect truss of all open flowers. If we agreed to that, then the judges would have the exquisitely painful task of judging a perfect open truss against a perfect mix of buds and flowers. Judging already relies as much on aesthetics as on botanical perfection, in spite of what we say. (When did you last consider a "perfect" truss of R. micranthum a rival to a perfect truss of 'Janet Blair'?) Let's give our blue ribbons to rhododendron flowers in all their various forms and stages.