Early Spring AGS Show, 2017
Any lingering concerns about a repeat of last year’s below-par performance were soon dispelled upon entering the show hall. It was, by near-unanimous verdict, one of the strongest Early Spring shows in recent memory. Visitors to the show were treated to nearly 500 plants in the competitive classes, representing the best and brightest of spring alpines.
Moving along the benches was like moving through the season. A host of early and late bulbs, including Galanthus, Crocus, Iris, Narcissus and Tecophilea, sat alongside, inter alia, Dionysia, Primula, Hepatica, flowering shrubs and Saxifraga. The latter, not typically seen in high numbers at Harlow, were represented both in the competitive classes and also in David Hoare’s non-competitive display. There was even a Lewisia tweedyi, albeit a rather young plant, which is usually only seen towards the end of the spring showing season.
Neither was it the case that high quality plants were limited to the Open Section. Many judges commented on the high standard of the Intermediate and Novice sections. Carolyn Millen’s Galanthus ‘Anne of Geierstein’ was a worthy recipient of the Geoff Smith Salver for the best bulbous plant in these sections, and Tony Stanley’s Dionysia zschmmellii was considered worthy of a Certificate of Merit. My favourite of the Dionysia on display, however, was another of Tony’s plants: D. freitagii [right]. One of the most attractive Dionysia in my view (it certainly could not be accused of being ‘a yellow blob’!), in the wild this can be found growing in the limestone cliffs of northern Afghanistan.
At the other end of the ‘ease of growing spectrum’ to Dionysia are hepaticas. The full variety of these plants’ colours was on display at Harlow, from Don Peace’s very attractive white H. japonica forma magna to the deep purple of Alan Newton’s H. maxima hybrid. Many can be easily grown outside, provided they are protected from the summer sun. Personally, though, I prefer to grow them in the alpine house as the seed, by which these plants can be easily propagated, is more accessible, and the flowers can be admired at close quarters.
Alan’s Hepatica formed part of his E.B. Anderson Prize-winning small six-pan entry. In the Large Open equivalent, Peter Hood’s entry was only awarded a second. However, he was able to console himself with the Farrer Medal for best plant in show, awarded to one of its components, Corydalis sewerzowii. Native to the ‘Stans’ region of Asia (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan), good light and planting deep in a pot are prerequisites to success with this striking member of the Leonticoides Section.
Turning to the Novice Section, five exhibitors entered plants – a number almost unheard of at today’s AGS shows. Making his national debut, having already triumphed at the Bedfordshire Group’s local show in 2016, was Steven Squires. Steven grows a range of plants, including the Draba, Saxifraga and Sempervivum he brought along to Harlow, most of which he grows from seed. Arguably the pick of his plants was Cyclamen coum Pewter Group, which was raised from AGS seed sown at the end of 2011. Although this was not quite yet of the standard seen in the open classes, Steven’s early success certainly bodes well. Like Hepatica, and indeed many other Cyclamen species, this is another plant that thrives in both the garden and alpine house.
A mark of a show’s quality is the number of Certificates of Merit that are awarded. Five such accolades were given at Harlow but were shared by just two genera. The aforementioned D. zschmmellii was joined by D. ‘Adora’ (odora x ? tapetodes), also exhibited by Tony Stanley, and Paul and Gill Ranson’s D. tapetodes ‘Brimstone’ JRD 92/2/1. The other two were awarded to representatives of the Iris genus. One, a remarkable (and remarkably large) pan of Iris winogradowii [right], shown by John Dixon, was a close runner-up for the Farrer Medal, missing out by a single vote. The other, Ivor Betteridge’s I. svetlanae, which also received a Certificate of Cultural Commendation from the Joint Rock Committee.
If I had been given the chance to take an Iris from the show bench home, however, I would have chosen the dark form of I. rosenbachiana brought along by Ruth Jones. A white form, also exhibited by Ruth, could be found further down the same bench. Ruth acquired this plant from Jānis Rukšāns a few years ago. It is kept in the alpine house with the bottom half of the pot filled with a lean compost, the bulbs sitting on sharp sand and the remainder of the pot topped-up with grit. It is re-potted in late autumn, with watering commencing as soon as the leaves start to show. Ruth confessed to me that her plants had been ‘a bit neglected’ recently, but I. rosenbachiana did not appear to have suffered as a result!
From the sublime to the novel (or just plain odd, depending on your view) with a class offering a twist on the usual miniature garden by permitting the use of accessories. The winning entry, put together by Pauline Carless, was reminiscent of Bilbo Baggin’s garden (the protagonist of The Hobbit for those who are unfamiliar with Tolkien’s works), complete with birdbath, garden path and vegetable patch. Classes such as this will inevitably divide the crowd, but any attempt to spark the imagination and interest of the young gardeners of the future should be welcomed.
For the purists among the show-goers, comfort could be found in the class for plants new and rare in cultivation. Diane Clement, a regular exhibitor in this class, offered Colchicum robustum for appraisal. This early flowering bulb is from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and is grown by Diane in a mixture of grit and JI compost. It is, to my eye at least, more appealing than the more commonly seen C. hungaricum (for which Jim McGregor received a Farrer Medal at the South Wales Show two weeks earlier), and one hopes that it will not remain rare in cultivation for long.
Orchids also had a presence at Harlow, with Barry Tattersall exhibiting a number of exquisite examples. For me, the most fascinating of his orchids was Myrmechila truncata [photo by Jon Evans], which can be found growing in the forests of its native Australia. This formed part of Barry’s first prize three pan entry alongside Ophrys kotschyi and Orchis olbiensis. It would be fair to say that the Myrmechila was the more understated of the three orchids, but it was no less attractive because of this.
Narcissus has become a favourite genus of mine and the Early Spring show is one of the best places to see them. Bob and Rannveig Wallis can always be relied on in this regard, to which their N. triandrus x fernandesii testified. Perhaps the most attractive Narcissus there, though, was Lee and Julie Martin’s N. ‘Dinah Rose’ [left]. Another triandrus cross but this time of unknown pollen parentage, ‘Dinah Rose’ is one of the sweetest-scented Narcissus, making it a much sought-after edition to any collection.
To close, I mention the four displays, two plant and two photographic, that were given awards at the show. Jacques Amand’s display of spring bulbs earned the nursery a Silver Award, and RBG Kew’s display of mixed alpines, a regular feature of the Early Spring Show, received a Gold Award. Silver Awards were also given to the two photographic displays. One was of David Livermore’s travels around easternmost Turkey. The second was an account of Kew student Solène Dequiret’s visit to California to study the state’s native flora, with a particular focus on Calochortus. The ‘amazing trip’, which took place in May/June of last year, was part-sponsored by the AGS, highlighting the support the Society gives to those seeking to conserve the alpine plants that we love to see on the show bench.
Author: Robert Amos
Photographer: Doug Joyce