Wimborne AGS Show, 2017
With its newly appointed décor and extensive building work now completed, thanks to a multi-million pound grant from the government, the Queen Elizabeth School (home to the Wimborne Show) has now become one of the more attractive venues on the AGS show circuit. One could not help but be mightily impressed by the massive four-metre high gilded cross sculpture located in the courtyard just outside the main entrance. Artwork of a different kind met you just inside the doors as Jean Morris assembled another display of her needlepoint to wow both seasoned exhibitors and paying members of the public in equal measure. More art was to be found in the main show hall. With the cessation of competitive photographic classes at AGS shows, the local group now occupy the front of the copious show hall with one of their own – a great adjunct that other shows should perhaps consider. This, along with a fairly informal plant forum in the early afternoon gave added interest to an already entertaining show.
Although the benches were a little thinner than in previous years (a situation becoming all too familiar at shows in general) it was pleasing to see rather more entries in the Novice classes. Five exhibitors competed for the John Blanchard Cup (section aggregate) which was won by Ben Parmee. The Downland Trophy for the best plant in the Novice Section was a repeat performance by last year’s winner, Michael Powell’s Disa sagittalis. Grown in pure Cornish grit and regularly given a proprietary orchid fertiliser with analytical control of its conductivity levels (to an exact microsiemens/cm level!) this specimen has, on occasion, withstood below zero temperatures while under cold glass protection.
The New Forest Trophy is a local award, given to the best plant in either the Novice or the Intermediate Sections shown by a Dorset or Hampshire Group member – an award that usually causes a degree of ‘admin’ in its selection. Shown by David Hanslow, Roscoea ‘Harvington Raw Silk’ was the unanimous choice of the judges. Masses of attractive yellow flowers above pinkish, yellow bracts arising from strong green foliage make this as good in a pot as it is in the garden – and very worthy of its RHS AGM accolade.
The exhibition of miniature gardens seems to be undergoing a resurgence, with several now regular proponents up and down the country. One such, Mike Sullivan, has a number to choose from, their deployment governed by the time of year and amount of ‘interest’ at the time of the show. Mike’s winning display featured a number of ‘silver’ saxifrages, growing limpet-like on a piece of tufa, the vast majority of them in full flower. A discussion ensued on the validity of a ‘garden’ as opposed to a ‘landscape’-styled exhibit, with both types deemed according to schedule.
Hardy cacti are here to stay: experimental classes during my stint as Director of Shows proved the popularity of these with exhibitors and the general public alike, for they are every bit as worthy of inclusion (more so, in some eyes) as the many woodland and low elevation plants that fall within the catholic range supported by our Society. Not just acceptable but deserving of a Certificate of Merit in the case of Rebutia krainziana, shown by Vic Aspland. No stranger to the show bench, this plant returned this time in style. Cold hardy (in fact it needs a ‘chilling’ to induce flowering) with some protection from wet in the winter, a growth spurt after flowering dictates the end of any watering until autumn.
Another Certificate of Merit went to Tulbaghia capensis (Ian Sharpe). Once a member of the now defunct Alliaceae, it now resides in the family Amaryllidaceae (subfamily Alliodeae) and as the specific name suggests, comes from Cape Province in South Africa. Belying its tender reputation looks and provenance, this is kept outside in a pot all year round, with no special protection from winter cold or wet but just a little drying-off in summer. Grown in a mix of two parts grit, one of John Innes no. 2 and one of ericaceous compost, the secret – as with so many South African plants – is to minimise the nitrogen in any fertiliser given.
Three plants were proposed for the ‘best in show’ accolade (it is worth noting that just because a plant is voted best in show it does not automatically receive a Farrer Medal; it needs attain the required standard, as further voted by the panel of judges). The first, a huge pan of Iris variegata (Lee and Julie Martin) could not have been more eye-catching, with around twenty multi-flowered stems. Known commonly as the ‘Hungarian Iris’, this plant has been grown in western Europe as an ornamental since the 16th century and is parent to many bearded Iris hybrids.
The specific epithet variegata usually refers to plants with variegated foliage but in this plant denotes the heavily-veined cream and purple falls (outer tepals) of the flowers. Favouring stony slopes in the wild, it enjoys a free-draining, loam-based compost with minimal protection during the coldest winter months. This Certificate of Merit exhibit, along with an incredibly ‘coniferous’ plant of Larix kaempheri ‘Nana’ and a multitude of other superb entries added up to a show-winning number of first prize points that garnered Lee and Julie the Stanton Award.
The second candidate, another Certificate of Merit recipient and runner-up to the eventual champion, was Campanula carpatha shown by Paul and Gill Ranson (labelled ‘alba’ but with a distinctive violet hue), not to be confused with the more commonly met-with and easily grown Carpathian C. carpatica; this is a rather more demanding customer. A martyr to Botrytis, any dead flowers need to be taken off, with greater care afforded in the cold, dank winter months when every piece of dead foliage needs to be removed lest it succumb to this malaise. This plant has never set seed, making cuttings are the only means of propagation. The problem here is finding non-flowering material of sufficient length to make this feasible.
The third and ultimately the Farrer Medal plant was Stachys candida, shown by Martin and Anna Sheader; the very same plant received a Farrer Medal under the mistaken identity of Stachys chrysantha at the Malvern Show in 2000. Worth growing for its white tomentose, downy leaves alone, the bonus of many clusters of flowers, like Busby Berkeley babes circling the fountain in the classic scene from ‘Footlight Parade’ ensures its inclusion in many alpine plant collections. This species needs to be cut back hard after flowering to encourage new growth which helps avoid the leggy, loose appearance all too many cultivated plants.
It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that both exhibitors and visitors do not realise the amount of time and effort put into the planning and running of a show. This said, these do not just ‘happen’ and it is acknowledging the groundwork involved from time to time. Bill Squire and his team of helpers should be very satisfied with a job well done.
Author: Ray Drew
Photographer: Jon Evans