Ulster AGS Show, 2017
Saturday 22nd April 2017 dawned cool and dry – ideal conditions for exhibitors to convey their plants into the show hall for staging. The weather in the months leading up to the show, however, had a less benign effect in that it resulted in many plants that should have been at their best in late April being over. In consequence, there were noticeably fewer exhibits than one would expect at the later of the two Irish shows, which is usually the bigger. But, while numbers were down, quality was not, and there were many fine plants on the benches for visitors to admire. In short, the show was a success and was enjoyed by exhibitors and visitors alike. As always, Pat Crossley (the longest serving Show Secretary in the AGS) and her team must be congratulated for the hard work that ensured everything ran so smoothly. Martin Rogerson, Director of Shows, supervised the judging firmly and sensitively, ensuring that standards were maintained, while recognizing the issues facing exhibitors who are effectively confined to two shows annually.
As well as the spectacle provided by the plants, visitors also enjoyed the photographic display ‘Flowers of Turkey’, staged by Joan and Liam McCaughey. The exhibit earned a well-deserved Gold Award. On the show bench, their Iris attica was judged to be the best bulbous plant in the Intermediate Section.
There was competition for the best plant in both the Novice and Intermediate Sections. In the first of these, Triona Corcoran from Dublin took the honours with Silene acaulis, and a flawless pot of Helichrysum pagophilum shown by Gemma Hayes (Colwyn Bay) was deemed the winner in the Intermediate Section. It was also awarded a Certificate of Merit. The trophies for the highest aggregate points went to Paddy Smith (Navan) in the Open Section; in the Intermediate to Mac Dunlop (Glenoe, Larne); and to Jamie Chambers (Sandycove) in the Novice Section.
Several plants were also in contention for best in show with the Farrer Medal being awarded to Gavin Moore (Dublin) for his large Primula henrici, originally purchased as P. bracteata. I can’t help wondering if the last word has still to be said on the classification of this species, given its wide variation in flower and foliage. I have seen little consistency in the use or omission of subsp. henrici and subsp. dubernardiana on specimens exhibited.
An unusual feature of the show was the three entries in the large six pan class, due, I suppose, to the fact that the RHS Sewell Medal would go to the winner. The judges spent quite a long time examining the 18 plants before declaring your reporter’s entry the winner. One plant in this group, Pulsatilla albana (Ed. This is sometimes sold as ‘Lutea’ but yellow is the typical colour; rarely cream or white forms occur), was also awarded a Certificate of Merit. The entry of Gordon Toner (Limavady) included Lupinus nootkatensis, a plant not often seen on the show bench. It is a true alpine and looked well in a 30cm pot, but probably would not be enthused about in Iceland where, since its introduction in 1945, it has proved to be extremely invasive and is now a major pest in that country. Gordon grows trilliums very well and was awarded the Frank Walsh Cup (best bulbous plant in the Open Section) for his well-flowered Trillium albidum.
Among the few lewisias at the show, Raymond Copeland from Newry staged mature specimens of L. tweedyi and L. cotyledon that were both given Certificates of Merit. Unusually for Ulster there were not many plants from Australasia on the benches. The award for the best plant from that region went to George and Pat Gordon’s (Bangor) Myosotis glabrescens. This New Zealand native is a fairly rare plant and likes cool conditions, so it does well in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It makes a nice cushion but the white flowers tend to be sparsely produced. The award for the best pan of Ericaceae also went to George and Pat for Cassiope Stormbird Group.
A fine Cyclamen persicum from Paddy Smith was the best plant in a 19cm pot. In recent years Paddy has been recognized as an expert grower of gentians (his Gentiana verna won the Cowan Trophy) but his cyclamen and fritillarias are also outstanding: an exhibitor to watch.
There seems to be a slight resurgence of interest in the dwarf conifer classes at the Irish shows recently but entries are still way short of the numbers seen some years ago. One interesting entry from Pat Kennedy (Dublin), in the rare in cultivation class, was a specimen of Phyllocladus trichomanoides ‘Highlander’, also known as the Alpine Celery Pine, a male form of this New Zealand native. It is a rare and slow-growing conifer bearing small green leaflets and small bundles of reddish cones in summer. Fully hardy and preferring a well-drained soil, it grows to about 45cm in ten years and is a member of the Podocarpaceae.
A few statistics: there were 18 entries in the Novice Section from four exhibitors; 32 in the Intermediate (eight exhibitors); and 132 in the Open (14 exhibitors).
The close of the late April Show marks the end of the show season for Irish alpine growers and is always tinged with a little sadness. As well as being an opportunity to see wonderful plants grown by other exhibitors, the shows have a strong social element, enabling members of the two groups to share experiences and gossip. For now, the medium term future of the two Irish shows seems assured, but the fact that the average age of the exhibitors is rising year by year is worrying. We must continue to make every effort to encourage more members to exhibit and to attract new, younger members.
Author: Billy Moore
Photographer: Heather Smith