Kent Autumn AGS Show, 2017
This was of necessity a smaller show than last year, for quite a few exhibitors (those with pretty comprehensive collections included) had simply run out of flowering plants, or if not were obliged to enter second flush displays, having carefully snipped off all traces of the first salvo. The 2016 Crocus cavalcade had this time round long since passed by: only Lee & Julie Martin managed to stage a three-pan exhibit, all of them southern Greek (C. goulimyi ‘Mani White’, C. melantherus and a lilac form of C. laevigatus [right], the segment reverses feathered blackish-violet.
Excepting these and Ian Robertson’s returning potful of SW Turkish C. nerimaniae (which will flower in its third year from seed, apparently, despite its present rarity in cultivation), Iridaceae aficionados had to be content with George Elder’s Gladiolus stefaniae. This large-flowered species, known from just two populations in the Cape Floral Region, grows at up to 800m in seasonally moist sandstone gullies, The 5mm wide, sword-shaped leaves do not appear until after flowering, and given that the stems can reach up to 65cm tall, the overall effect was rather leggy for some tastes, those of the judges included. Tongue in cheek, George enquired whether it would have pleased them better had he double-potted within a much deeper container, burying the flower stem by half to deceive and lend (for want of a better expression) a more ‘alpine’ appearance.
In the same three-pan, his Strumaria salteri (sown in June 2005) had geniculate stems, after the manner of some Cyclamen, that first develop horizontally before turning skywards and producing loose umbels of 5-14 pink flowers, marked with darker banding, at a height of 20-25cm. This too inhabits fynbos covered sandstone slopes, specifically from Nardousberg to Pakhuisberge and the Olifants river valley, and is one of the showier species.
Surveying some nearby entries of Saxifraga fortunei cultivars, George recalled that on trips to Japan, he had witnessed lavish displays of these in railway stations and, even more surprisingly, hotels. There has been a great uptake in the cultivation of these late-blooming plants within the past 10-15 years, reflected in the 2012-2014 RHS Wisley Trial, at the conclusion of which 13 received an Award of Garden Merit, including old favourites such as the miniature ‘Mount Nachi’, and ‘Rubrifolia’, the first grown for some 60 years, the second of even longer standing and well shown here in a large pan by Mark & Helen Childerhouse.
They also entered a varied, contrasting trio of others in the small Open Section class for three rock plants of any one genus. At the back, ‘Fleur Delacour’ (named after a J.K. Rowling character) had two main, much branched panicles and presented a haze of graceful white blooms; ‘Gokka’ (likewise not represented in the Trial) is reddish-pink, with enlarged, exaggeratedly sculpted lower petals; ‘Moe’ (another AGM recipient, perhaps on the grounds of novelty, for even the official notes have it as forming an ‘untidy clump’) is an irregularly, abstractly double form (classified as ‘sen’ezaki’ by the Japanese) with greenish-cream flowers that last for weeks and weeks – handy for exhibition purposes, though anyone immune to its charms will wish the performance over and done with as soon as possible.
If you wanted to see Saxifraga fortunei en masse, you merely needed to look left, just before entering the hall, where one enterprising nurseryman had brought along two eyecatching, larger-growing, larger-flowered clones, each block around a metre square. Had he opted to jam as many of these as possible into a 36cm pot and given them a week to settle down, a Farrer Medal might have been his reward. But indoors there was nothing that quite measured up, the closest contender a very good Cyclamen maritimum in Bob & Rannveig Wallis’s small six-pan that beat their much larger plant of the same species, displayed along with mature, very well-flowered accompanists Oxalis perdicaria ‘Cetrino’ and Galanthus peshmenii ‘Kastellorizo’ in the large three-pan. Having won the Keith Moorhouse Trophy for the best plant in a 19cm pot and the Saunders Award for the best Cyclamen, it was adjudged best in show, but simply didn’t have the age or dimensions of specimens nowadays produced (even so, if you look back a few decades, it was better flowered than some Farrer Medal examples of C. graecum and its segregate).
The Wallises also showed a pan of what they consciously, rather than unknowingly labelled Galanthus corcyrensis, one imagines with the purpose of referencing a Corfu sourcing, for its ‘otherness’ from G. reginae-olgae has long since been dismissed. Ian Robertson’s pan of that species – the clone ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ that Peter Moore selected in the 1980s and named for his father – won him a Certificate of Merit (he also bagged the other one awarded with his 16-strong clump of Pleione Confirmation gx.) But what surprised was the appearance of the late autumn/winter-flowering snowdrop whose sanctioned naming (differing slightly from the labelling) has been settled upon as Galanthus elwesii Hiemalis Group ‘Donald Sims’ [right], named for the East Anglian gardener who received stock that might well have come from Sir Frederick Stern’s garden at Highdown. One of several clones of this species that flower before Christmas (‘Barnes’ the best known of these), Carolyn Millen’s clump in the Intermediate Section was viewed with naked envy by various attendees, who admired its substantial flowers and comparatively short stance, the stems at most 15cm tall.
I do not recall seeing this at an AGS Show before (normally it flowers at least a fortnight too late), nor had I previously encountered on public display Cyclamen persicum var. autumnale, known from Israel, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon (it was assumed that it grew in the last-named country but data was only published last year, confirming this deduction). Ian Robertson’s entry, raised from seed in 2006 and of Israeli origin, had only one flower open but plenty of buds lined up to follow: in the wild it typically comes into flower in November, earlier appearances being triggered by earlier than usually rainfall at the end of September. The leaves had not yet emerged – typical for this taxon – and the flowers were smaller than most spring-flowering examples of var. persicum, but one reads that the leaf patterning is predominantly more subdued than some forms of its far more widespread, post-Christmas close relative. Some have flowers that are white but with a pink nose, this coloration sometimes extending to suffuse the entire flower.
On the other hand, Jacques Amand’s Colchicum byzantinum ‘Innocence’, which turned up in a random batch of corms some 25 years ago at the exhibitor’s nursery, is overall white but with purplish-stained segment tips, this contrast maintained by the style and the dark anthers. It increases well and readily produces up to six smallish flowers per corm. This genus too had largely given of its autumnal best a month or more earlier, as confirmed by the August/September gatherings of another RHS Trial, this time at Hyde Hall. Already winter/spring species such as C. hungaricum had nosed through the ground, demonstrating that autumn was well and truly on its way out.
Author: Robert Rolfe
Photographer: Jon Evans