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AGS Shows: 'Rocky Flower Show' 2013

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Jim McGregor, 09 June 2013, 09:37. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 03 June 2013, 11:05top / bottom of page

A first visit to the 'Rocky Flower Show' at Wimborne after a few years absence, and what a change! They have rebuilt the Queen Elizabeth School especially for us, and as a venue for an Alpine Show it could hardly be bettered. The nurseries had pride of place in the main concourse, nicely between the show hall and refreshments down at a lower level. When we drove into the town there was sign after sign for summer events, from the local Boot Fair to a Folk Festival. A lot going on! But the Show had a good attendance (I'm not sure how many?) - none the less I continue to wonder why it is that given such fascinating plants, both on Show and for sale, and especially at such a fine venue, that more younger gardeners are not attracted? And I think it is because we need to talk more generally about our gardening with these plants, but that's just me. It is hard to convince many gardeners that a foot or two of sand and gravel, even over difficult clay soil, can often enable you to grow many special plants as easily as any others, and maybe nearly as well as in pots! Initial success is the most encouraging.


There were ten nurseries at the Show including Choice Landscapes (Michael and Jill Agg), hot foot (literally) from helping with the AGS Chelsea exhibit. The Dorset and Hampshire Groups of the AGS, who run the Show, give it its own flavour, especially in the description 'Rocky Flower Show' (unaccountably I got this wrong at the beginning of this thread and apologise - I am unable to edit it; Jon or Jim can you help?) [I hope that's right now - Jon].

They also produce a valuable leaflet with information about the Society and groups, the Show and Nurseries - and some good display boards.

One thing I had not come across before at an AGS show was a 'Plant Forum' (held down in the refreshment area with a captive audience!), where nurserymen talked about some of the plants they grew; and is there any reason why some of the Show plants couldn't be described in the same way? This might remove some of the mystique that these plants present to newcomers. And there were some fine plants on display as always, and some extremely interesting ones, such as Jon Evans' curious and it has to be said, ungainly, Ferraria from South Africa - what extraordinary flowers! (Try as I might I couldn't get a better photograph, but i think this still illustrates them well.).

As usual I found the nursery stands irresistable. Stefan Rau, who used to run the Show, said to me that many of the nurseries can look very similar to the visitor (i.e: a lot of plants in small pots - albeit very interesting plants) and I am sure he is right. In the height of summer there is much more scope in having a greater variety of herbaceous plants and shrubs, still of specialist interest, that would appeal to more gardeners and draw more into the world of alpines. There are many very worthwhile small shrubs in particular, and Stefan had some fascinating grafted conifers very like those that I saw widely in Czech rock gardens.

It can seem that we collect plants like stamps, but we also lose them, and Chamaecytisus hirsutus demissus (which Keith Lever had) is a plant I grew maybe 20 years ago, and have always wanted to establish again. Aberconwy also had the famous old Dianthus 'Inshriach Dazzler' and a particularly small form of Lithodora diffusa, even more compact than 'Picos'.

Julian Sutton and his wife (Desirable Plants) and Nigel Rowland (Longacre) do stand out for growing more woodland and herbaceous plants. Julian had a very striking red South African heather (whose name I didn't record) - and after his talk to our Group earlier this year some of the SA ericas would make very striking Show plants - and also some very nice epimediums. These provide useful later colour under our apple trees and so one more, E. ilicifolium with soft-yellow flowers, came home with us. Longacre had good pots of a plant of the moment, Cypripedium 'Gisela', and the very distinctive New Zealand fern, Doodia media. This is reasonably hardy with us and very attractive for its rich bronze-red young fronds and neat small habit.

Mimulus 'Highland Red' really stood out amongst Michael and Jill's plants (Choice Landscapes), along with Scilla peruviana. And Sue White had brought along plants of Geranium 'Gypsy'; a really fine small hybrid raised by Eric Smith at The Plantsman nursery (and described in detail by Jim Archibald for the Hardy Plant Journal - and see the SRGC Website). Along with a bevy of daphnes, I picked up D. modesta, Sue also had two forms of the very lovely Veronica bombycina, which combines soft silver-grey foliage and blue flowers like no other plant. With winter protection this has grown successfully on our sand bed, and just look at this picture taken in one of the rock gardens in the Czech republic (more details under that thread). Tale Valley nursery had another plant of the moment, Rhodohypoxis, of which they hold a National Collection, and seem to have attracted the eye of a certain connoisseur of South African plants!

Two more nurseries: Simon Bond, who is one of the few growers (in the south anyway) still growing and propagating many dwarf ericaceous plants - and a real elder statesman of the Society - and Dot Sample (Parham Bungalow) who brought some beautiful oxalis, amongst other dry-loving alpines, very appealing for those with dry gardens like ours. She had two plants on display that particularly caught my eye - Oxalis 'Hemswell Knight' x laciniata 'Seven Bells' and a super pan of the succulent Esterhuysenia alpina.

It is difficult not to mention the new school buildings; whatever people think of the cost, they are finely constructed and surely accord with the quality and interest of the plants everyone is growing at the Show. Alongside the entrance there is a shallow roof planting of sedums, in need of just a little weeding to remove intruders (an excellent task for a detention, or better still any students who actually have a real interest in plants - here are the two opposites of how plants can be considered). Inside the building is light and airy with plenty of space for stands and information.

In a previous year I was told that the Show also had a display and plants from a local Cactus Society - and Vic and Janet Aspland had some superb cacti in the Show this year (mumble, mumble from the judges and some members no doubt!). Combining with other specialist plant societies (notably the Hardy Plant Society) like this seems potentially a good way of attracting greater interest overall, and the venue provides fine opportunities to do this.

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