East Anglia AGS Show, 2017
I arrived at Wymondham after a short train journey through the Brecks countryside with its rather alien expanses of sandy grassland broken up by the stands of wind-sculptured Scotch Pines. The cold, breezy day was in stark contrast to the kaleidoscope of colours on display at the East Anglia Show: from the bright, lairy Lewisia cotyledon hybrids to the pure white flowers of the many mossy saxifrages on display. This has to be one of my favourite shows as it always features a wide array of excellent late spring-flowering plants from a range of habitats and altitudes.
The class that really impressed me was the Open Section large six-pan, uncontested but featuring an impeccably array grown by Clare Oates which deservedly won an AGS Medal. All its component plants were superbly grown and showed good diversity - Dodecatheon pulchellum from western North America, for example, contrasting with a domed cushion of Saxifraga pedemontana subsp. cervicornis (native to Corsica and Sardinia).
Remarkably, three of Clare’s plants won a Certificate of Merit, two from this entry alone; the aforementioned Dodecatheon and a delightful Globularia meridionalis [right]. Confirmation, clearly, that this was one of the best six-pan entries seen at Wymondham for many a year. A third Certificate went to her Saxifraga spruneri, an unusual and challenging species native to the Balkan peninsula and south-westernmost Bulgaria that is one of the last of the Porophyllum species to flower. This mature example had scores of glandular hairy flowering stems with small cream flowers held around 5cm above the cushion: a rare achievement!
The Farrer Medal went to an incredibly large Saxifraga pubescens ‘Snowcap’ shown by Alan and Janet Cook. There is always a great representation of mossy saxifrages at Wymondham but the Cook’s plant was the real head-turner. The near perfect dome, thought to be around 10 years old, was obscured by thousands of pure white flowers. This majestic specimen is now so big that it has been retired from service and been gifted to a nursery.
Another member of the genus that caught my eye was the rarely seen Saxifraga gesnesiana in the single pan Saxifragaceae Class. Grown by Mark Childerhouse, this plant is native to the Sierra de Montseny in Catalonia and was described as recently as 1997. Forming a soft mound of hairy, sharply dissected leaves, its white, star-shaped flowers (whose petals reflex halfway along their length) are held on upright, tallish stems. Often short-lived in cultivation, it is best propagated regularly from seed.
The Barbara Tingey Trophy for best pan of fern went to a beautifully presented Woodisa polystichoides, staged by Don Peace. This pretty fern, native to Eastern Asia and Japan, had fronds that looked particularly delicate and were a fresh, vibrant green. Don explained he concentrates on growing the deciduous ferns as their new growth always looks crisp and clean. He cuts them back hard on the first day of the New Year, long before any new growth starts to appear. He also won the Norfolk Trophy for most first prizes in the Open Section.
The winner of the Suffolk Trophy for best plant in flower in the Intermediate Section went to Julia Parrott’s well-staged Cypripedium Ingrid gx. She grows several other woodland-loving members of the genus in shady parts of her Cambridgeshire garden in Barrington, but this fine white/burgundy red hybrid has been pot grown. Keeping it in the family, Stephen Parrott won the East Anglia Trophy for the most first prizes in the Novice Section.
Second in the ‘1 pan rock plant in flower’ Intermediate Section class went to an especially fine flowering Saxifraga longifolia grown by Cliff Walker. This plant needs patience and good growing skills to produce such an unblemished rosette with a fine inflorescence already full of open flowers, with many more in bud (Ed. The judges left a comment card, admiring its virtues and requesting that it be taken to the next show, but since this was three weeks away, and around 175 miles to the south-west, its re-appearance seemed unlikely).
A few later-flowering Fritillaria were well shown. Their curious (and rather unpleasant!) scent certainly caught my attention even before I’d caught sight of the striking blooms. Clare Oates’ Fritillaria affinis deservedly won the Sudbury Prize for the best pan of bulbs. This North American species has 16 flowering stems, each stem bearing at least eight nodding flowers of darkish green with rich, dark brown, tessellated markings. Clare keeps this plant outside in an open frame and only covers it in very wet or similarly adverse weather; it grows well but is slow to bulk up via its rice grain offsets. Variable in the wild, it is found from south-western Canada southwards, running down the coast as far as Los Angeles (California).
Clare also exhibited an impressive clump of F. camschatcensis which was awarded joint second in the ‘1 pan rock plant native to Asia’ class (it had been awarded a Farrer medal only a few years earlier). Particularly attractive with its rich, shiny green foliage and near-black pungent flowers, it can also rarely present itself in greenish-yellow forms: an exceptional stand of one such I admired last June, growing in the woodland beds at Gothenburg Botanical Garden.
Another impressive geophyte that stood out was Robert Rolfe’s great pan of Allium shelkovnikovii ‘Sarejn’. This tongue-twistingly named Allium is native to Iran; Robert’s plant is from a form selected by Norman Stevens and had three exceptionally large (c. 13cm diameter) globular inflorescences made up of numerous star-shaped, lilac flowers. The colour of these, held just above the glaucous foliage, created a terrific contrast. Like many snowmelt plants it needs plenty of water early on but is best kept bone-dry when dormant.
Pleiones always add an exotic feel to the show, Cecilia Coller’s class-winning Pleione El Pico gx. no exception with its intense dark mauve pink flowers filling their shallow terracotta pan. A hybrid first registered by Ian Butterfield in 1980, it is a cross between P. ‘Versailles’and P. bulbocodioides. Cecilia’s pleiones enjoy a peat and woodchip compost. Post-flowering they are kept on the north side of a barn, dried out in autumn and re-potted in January.
The genus Arisaema in the Aroid family is alternatively much admired or greatly disliked, depending on your tastes. John and Clare Dower (from Frodsham in Cheshire) had two examples of A. thunbergii var. urashima on the show benches. This subspecies from Japan (Hokkaido and Shikoku) has a much darker, deeper velvet-purple spathe interior than the straight species. An equally striking A. ringens, grown by Bob Worsley, had jet black-lined spathes, these held under the glossy green, trifoliate leaves.
A record of my visit would be incomplete without mentioning the genus Lewisia. These North American plants always brighten the benches with their vibrant, bold colours at this time of the year. One of my favourites was a very well grown Lewisia ‘George Henley’, again shown by John and Clare Dower. This was an accomplished, free-flowering example with a deep green, closely packed cushion and a mantle of bloom held clear. The unusually deep pink, almost iridescent colour of the flowers seemed to change colour subtly during the day.
Author: Simon Wallis
Photographer: Doug Joyce