Chesterfield AGS Show, 2017
A gloriously warm spring day greeted another Chesterfield Show, this year brought to a successful conclusion in the face of adversity. Sadly, show secretary John Savage was taken seriously ill only days before and was still in hospital. We wish him a speedy, full recovery. Former show secretary Ju Bramley stepped into the breach and the administration was to the usual high standard. Ju was a successful exhibitor too, notably with a small pot containing three diminutive flower spikes of Ophrys speculum.
A reorganisation of the show layout meant that all the plant nurseries could be located in the entrance area instead of in cramped rooms at the rear – a significant improvement. Parking arrangements will always be such that exhibitors arriving after about 8 a.m. have a trek to carry their plants to the hall – the more resourceful using trolleys. These days some have suspension to prevent top dressing spilling during the journey.
Pride of place in this report must surely go to a delighted Tony Hollingworth. Tony normally exhibits in the Intermediate Section but stepped up to win class 1 for six pans of rock plants and also the prestigious Sewell Medal. This is awarded only once annually and has surely never before been won by an Intermediate exhibitor. His entry included four large pots of erythroniums (a particularly good clump of Erythronium helenae among them) with flowers in very good condition considering the hot sun outside. A mature stand of Fritillaria affinis var. tristulis and a huge, 15 year-old specimen of Trillium kurabayashii completed his entry, all nourished with Comfrey tablets, Tony said.
Yet another Farrer Medal was won by Geoff Rollinson with an immaculate dome of Primula henrici [right] (formerly P. bracteata), its pink flowers with yellow centres completely obscuring the leaves. Close by was a lovely specimen of Androsace villosa var. taurica which won Geoff a Certificate of Merit.
Our new Director of Shows, Martin Rogerson, was at the Dublin Show but in his absence his splendid Draba longisiliqua, a contender for a major award for several years, won both a Certificate of Merit and the John and Jill Saxton Trophy for the best plant native to Europe, qualifying by reason of its origins in the Caucasus (just within the continental boundary). Time was when large cushions of drabas in full flower, notably D. mollissima and D. acaulis, could routinely be enjoyed at the Chesterfield Show and its predecessor in Nottingham. Is it my imagination or are they are now less frequently exhibited? Have recent mild winters made it more difficult to keep them in good condition? Have they gone out of fashion?
Don Peace won both a Certificate of Merit and, for the second consecutive year, the Chatsworth Trophy for the best bulbous plant with a splendid large pot filled with a Fritillaria hybrid of his own raising, ‘Lentune Slate’. The coining is based on the name recorded in the Domesday Book (‘Lentune’) for the present-day village of Kirklevington where Don lives, but its origins are less straightforward, for although the exhibitor’s records indicate that seed was received from Dieter Zschummel, labelled F. crassifolia, the alleged donor has never grown this plant, nor has the other parent of this hybrid been identified.
The best plant not in a pot not exceeding 19cm was a beautiful, highly fragrant Daphne petraea ‘Lydora’, with deep pink buds opening to reveal slightly paler flowers with just a hint of white. Exhibited by Ivor Betteridge, it is grown in a plastic pot and kept under glass – free standing, not plunged. Already some 10 years old, it still has room to expand before requiring a wider pot so, unless it suffers the sudden demise that can afflict mature daphnes, it will be eligible again for the Finley Swift Trophy a couple more years.
Robert Rolfe was awarded the Chesterfield Vase for the best pan of Ericaceae with a dwarf, white form of Rhododendron racemosum, the masses of compact white flowers borne aloft on slender, woody stems. Some 35 years old and reaching a total height of at least a metre, it had been lifted from the garden the night before then valiantly carried to the show by bus, train and a mini bus-sized taxi. It was adroitly exhibited tilting slightly forward to position the lovely blossoms at eye level. This south-western Chinese species is more often found in varying shades of pink, altogether more robust and open, but the contrasting dark anthers of this tightly clustered form made it a delightful exhibit.
The Intermediate Section was well supported. Tony Hollingworth exhibited a lovely pot of Fritillaria tuntasia, a dark-flowered species from just two islands in southern Greece, to build on his triumph in the Open Section. Michael Myers succeeded with a variety of exhibits, winning him the aggregate Nottingham Shield. His three-pan entry included a fine Pterostylis curta, an orchid from south-eastern Australia with hooded green flowers that curve forward and never fully open. The colony is overwintered just frost-free under glass but despite its origins the species is reliably hardy, given protection, in a normal North Yorkshire winter.
In contrast the Novice Section had only two exhibitors and five exhibits; always a worrying sign. Steve Spells was the aggregate winner, his best plant Corydalis wilsonii, a species found growing in rocky terrain in central China and introduced into cultivation by Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson at the beginning of the last century. Its vibrant yellow flowers illuminated the quiet corner in which the Novice Section was located.
This Show has never had a class simply for large cushion plants, only one for ‘a cushion plant grown for natural effect’ and the interpretation of this phrase often provokes debate. Skilled growers of cushion plants strive to achieve perfection of form, a state rarely found in wild growing plants. It isn’t easy to grow a cushion plant that is both in good health yet simulates a wildling. Few exhibitors attempt this, given that there are only one or two shows a year that offer such a class. This year the class held one cushion plant of perfect form, one good, smaller cushion raised upon a layer of rocks to create a natural appearance and a third (the winner, from Vic and Janet Aspland) consisting of one medium and several much smaller specimens of Saxifraga crustata growing on tufa. It will be interesting to observe this pan mature while the debate about the purpose of this class continues.
Author: David Charlton
Photographers: Don Peace and Robert Rolfe