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London AGS Show, 2009

Following a number of years when entries to this show, which takes place in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley hall in central London, have been declining, it is both a great pleasure to be able to report that numbers of both exhibitors and plants were considerably up this year. What is more, the quality of the plants shown, including those brought by first time exhibitors, was generally very high. As well as the live plants there was a truly exceptional competitive display of floral art with 51 exhibitors contributing 108 entries, many including several photographs or other forms of art.

There was only one entry in the large six-pan class in the open section, but what a fine entry it was. Cecilia Coller, a stalwart exhibitor at this and many other shows, treated us with a Sewell Medal winning exhibit which included the Farrer Medal plant, a large potful of Ipheion (Nothoscordum) sellowianum covered with bright yellow flowers. This member of the Alliaceae is from South America where it is found in clay soil that is slightly acidic and rich in organic matter, in an area with rainfall for most of the year with a brief dry period in late summer. Accordingly in cultivation it does not require summer baking and it seems happy to remain in the same pot for several years provided it receive occasional liquid feeds when it comes into growth. Also in this exhibit was the statuesque woodland foliage plant, Podophyllum delavayii, which comes from Sichuan. When the leaves start to emerge through the ground in early springthey resemble nothing so much as well fed, squat toads! Of doubtful hardiness in the UK, it is probably best grown in a large pot kept in a shady place, perhaps under the glasshouse staging.

Two excellent specimens of the rarely seen sub-shrub, Fibigia triquetra, were much admired. This bright, compact member of the Brassicaceae grows wild in the mountains of S. E. Europe among sunny rocks and screes. It is fully hardy and may well be suitable for cultivation in the open in the UK, although its rarity has so far precluded much experimentation in this direction. It does not seem to be very easy to propagate; single plants set little or no seed and cuttings, while possible to root are not easy.

A number of Certificates of Merit were awarded to outstanding plants. One of these was Corydalis curviflora var. rosthornii ‘Blue Heron’. The flowers of this form are very large and sweetly scented and borne over a very long period from early spring to autumn, provided the plant is never allowed fully to dry out. A semi-shaded position in moisture retentive soil suits it best in most gardens. Two Juno irises were similarly acknowledged, firstly a splendid, many flowered specimen of I graeberiana. ‘White Fall’. This iris, like many of its brethren is from Central Asia where it occurs on summer-dry stony slopes. It is not too difficult to cultivate under glass provided the plants are grown in very freely drained compost, the pots being plunged to their rims in sand given a good summer baking. Similar conditions are required to grow the much less robust but no less beautiful I. pseudocapnoides which was introduced to cultivation in 1975 by Janis Ruksans from the Chimgan Range in Uzbekistan.

The final Certificate of Merit was given to Primula maximowiczii, which is a relatively scarce in cultivation. This species, which has pendulous flowers with characteristically swept back petals in a colour range from yellow through various shades of pink to bright red, comes from Northern China where it grows at medium elevations in openings in moist woodland. It is, as would be expected from its origins, extremely hardy and is best grown in a leafy woodland soil in part shade.

There were many good exhibits in the classes for bulbous plants of which there is space to mention only a few. There were several excellent pots full of the variable but always elegant Tulipa clusiana, which is easy to grow in the open ground even in places with high summer rainfall, and a fine six-pan exhibit of erythroniums including two that particularly took your reporter’s fancy, a very good form of the lovely E. hendersonii with an unusually large central eye marking, and E. oregonum var. leucandrum, clearly showing the pale yellow anthers. In one of the classes for new or rare plants a striking form of Muscari sp. (? Neglectum) with very dark blue flowers carried on unusually darks stalks caught the eye. This form was collected in 1998 during the Swedish-Latvian-Iran-Zagros expedition and like most grape hyacinths is easy to grow in a pot in compost comprising equal parts of loam, gritty sand and peat substitute. When it becomes available in the trade it is likely to become a popular garden plant. The 80th (AGS) Anniversary Award, one of which is being given at each show this year, was won by Lee and Julie Martin with a lovely potful of the ever popular Narcissus bulbocodium var. obesus.

There were some very good entries in Section B, including a 3-pan exhibit by Robert Amos comprising Dianthus ‘Rivendell’, an unnamed Primula allionii hybrid, and Dionysia  ‘Charlson Pip’. There were also some fine entries in the beginner’s section including a three –pan entry from Colin Rogers of two erythroniums (E. revolutum ‘Knightshayes’ Pink’, E. hendersonii), and a fine form of Trillium chloropetalum with heavily marbled leaves and deep maroon flowers. They were all well grown and shown.

I mentioned the excellent display of floral art at the beginning of this report and it would be remiss of me not to return to it at the end. There were so many wonderful exhibits that it is difficult to choose just two, but I decided to comment on two. Martin Sheader put up an impeccable exhibit of 6 photographs of wonderful plants taken in the wild in S. America that included a most beautiful white-flowered cushion plant in the tobacco family, Combera paradoxa and, a junellia (J. congesta) to die for, if only we could obtain it and then cultivate it with any degree of success, two of the famed and impossibly difficult Rosulate violas, a stunning oxalis and (a sigh of relief!) the relatively easy to cultivate Calceolaria uniflora. A completely different but nonetheless wonderful (to my eyes) exhibit by the Show Secretary, Jon Evans, was a digitally manipulated photographic imitation of a Dutch Old Masters painting. In this case the main subject was fritillaries, including many species, but there were also, as in the case of the paintings, many other things to find if you looked carefully, including fritillary butterflies, crickets and caterpillars!

John Good