Loughborough Autumn AGS Show, 2017
The inaugural March precursor of this newly relocated show was a veritable extravaganza; the autumn follow-up, held just over six months later, was upgraded considerably by two carloads of plants that had been transported from a great deal further west than the few miles in that direction representing the shift from the outskirts of Loughborough to Shepshed, the other side of the M1. While I’ll allude to various other plants, the entries provided by Bob & Rannveig Wallis (from South Wales) and Ian Robertson (from Dorset) shone out time and again. (One might add that plants seen at the last of the autumn shows in 2016 were present fully three weeks earlier this time round, and that other absentees had already finished flowering by the end of August: an early September show would have been useful, this year at least.)
The genus Cyclamen provides more flowering exhibits than any other at this time of the year, and once again Ian Robertson brought along some heavyweight contenders, including his truly magnificent, alpha Cyclamen maritimum, approaching its 20th year and once again the recipient of the Farrer Medal by a country mile. In over 30 years of attending AGS autumn shows I haven’t seen its like, and cannot imagine how it could ever be bettered, on this outing in particular, when it was more floriferous than ever.
I suppose some might prefer the flowers a deeper shade of pink (another of Ian’s entries obliged in this respect, receiving a Certificate of Merit) or with more distinctively-marked foliage (he had one of these too, the patterning confined to the perimeter of the leaf blades, which were extensively pale cream at the core [right]).
He struck again in the small Open Section classes, coming first in the three-pan Cyclamen class with Cyclamen graecum subsp. graecum (sown in 1998), C. mirabile ‘Tilebarn Nicholas’ (from a 2005 sowing) and a miniature C. graecum subsp. candicum (this a mere nine years old) [left]. In fact he deployed two of the last of these, the tiny leaves beautifully patterned, almost as if stencilled, the flowers whitish with pink flushing and carried on scapes just 3-4cm tall.
And just for good measure, he brought along a yet again splendidly-flowered colony of Sternbergia greuteriana, runner-up to the Farrer Medal winner last year at Sutton Valence, and considered for this distinction once again, though its stablemate Cyclamen, already mentioned, romped home to victory.
The Wallises brought with them even more entries, securing them an AGS Medal for an excellent small six-pan entry comprising the plain-leaved Cyclamen graecum ‘Elizabeth Drew’, C. graecum subsp. candicum, C. mirabile, a very well-flowered clump of Crocus kotschyanus, vibrant yellow Oxalis flabellifolia (first introduced from southern Africa by Francis Masson in 1789, but a relative newcomer at AGS Shows) and – the pick of the bunch – a very floriferous mound of Colchicum cupanii [left], innocent of the etiolation that so often mars this species’ show bench appearances.
These also had some first-rate Cyclamen in the large pan classes, most notably a seductively fragrant, deep pink variant of C. rohlfsianum [right], received many years ago from Manfred Koenen, with not a leaf to be seen at this stage, whereas their three-pan entry was all leaf and no flower: a most unusual, jade green and verdigris-border-stippled example of C. persicum, C. maritimum (from which all the spent flowers had been fastidiously removed) and C. graecum subsp. graecum.
For all that, the Open Section Aggregate (Derby Group) trophy was claimed instead by Lee & Julie Martin (whose routing was north-east from coastal Sussex). While they have misgivings about the performances of their crocuses anywhere north of London’s orbital M25 motorway, their unusually deep violet, streaked and semi-striped Crocus goulimyi ‘Agia Sofia’ [right], courtesy of Melvyn Jope, drew attention, so too a much larger pan of C. g. varleucanthus that received the only other Certificate of Merit awarded on this occasion.
They also won the overall approbation of those who visited for their typically enchanting flower arrangement, which received the newly-instituted People’s Choice Award. An elegantly conical blend of crocuses, sternbergias, alliums and cyclamen in the main, with a crowning snowdrop overseeing the assemblage, it was a far more satisfactory example of democracy in action than certain other latterday canvassings: as a defeated USA senator once blurted out, following his defeat: ‘The people have spoken, the b*st*rds!’
Mention of an Allium leads me to a couple of distinguished entries representing this genus. Firstly Martin Rogerson’s pinkish-purple, Japanese Allium virgunculae, with heavily pollentipped stamens in the heavily-contested (16 contenders, though one of them, an Oxalis, was disqualified) one pan bulbous plant class. Next a seldom-seen European species, Jim McGregor’s A. ericetorum [left], bedevilled by a whole string of synonyms of which A. ochroleucum is the one most often dredged up, giving notice of its creamy flowers, arranged in almost spherical umbels 2cm in diameter, the stamens and styles exserted to give the halo effect so often seen in ornamental onions. This had been raised from AGS Distribution seed sown in 2002 and the stems were uniformly 15cm tall, but the height of this can vary from 10-40cm, and sometimes the cup-shaped flowers are tinged pink.
Petrocosmea, another genus whose members span the seasons, came into its own a fortnight later at Harlow Carr, but on this earlier occasion we could savour the delicate lilac, white-margined flowers of P. forrestii, shown by Ian Sharpe and described almost a decade ago (in 1919) but like so many of these predominantly Vietnamese/SW Chinese gesneriads, only established in cultivation within the last decade or so. In Sichuan and Yunnan, where it colonises cliff- faces at up to 2,000m, it typically flowers in July, but in cultivation flourishes both before and considerably after that month are routine. This is rosette-forming, whereas the more polymorphic Lysionotus pauciflorus (a member of the same family, brought along by Anne Vale) has a shrubby mien, shiny rather than pubescent leaves and narrowly Gloxinia-like flowers, produced from early summer onwards.
This show has a munificent nine gongs up for grabs: Barry Winter’s abundantly pink-berried Gaultheria mucronata received Leicester Group Trophy (for the best pan in cone, seed, fruit or displaying autumn-tinted foliage). He also scored elsewhere with a floriferous mound of Sedum cauticola [below], attractive to insects but not to human noses at close quarters, just as a southern African member of the same family, Crassula exilis, appealed on sight but exuded a bleach-like odour. Chris Bowyer (who reliably brings along off-beat alpines, all of them grown in unheated conditions, however exotic they may appear) exhibited this as “var. punctata” but this taxon appears to be a transliteration of subsp. picturata.
The species is found from southern Namibia and the Northern Cape across to Graaf-Reinet and other parts of the Eastern Cape, its adventitious root system allowing it to permeate cliff fissures and shallow soil pockets on steep sandstone or granite rock faces, individual plants 20cm or more in diameter. The flowers vary from white to carmine or (in this case) mid-pink and are produced in abundance for months on end: a welcome change from the rather squinny C. socialis or the tender, shocking crimson C. coccinea that normally do duty for this somewhat under-rated genus at AGS Shows.
Author: Robert Rolfe
Photographer: Jon Evans