East Lancashire AGS Show, 2017
Dominant high pressure ensured a sun-drenched show day that continued this year’s seasonal trend of plants flowering a fortnight or more earlier than usual. In consequence there were fewer larger pans of saxifragas and dionysias than has hitherto been the case, these having peaked at the Loughborough and Kendal events. However, numerous entries of primulas and bulbs ensured the show benches were colourful and pleasantly crowded.
Many of the primulas seen (the majority of them European, with Lionel Clarkson’s petiolarid P. irregularis a notable exception) were garden hybrids or selected forms, selected specifically for exhibition purposes. Peter Hood exhibited a Primula allionii hybrid that won its heavily entered class and is has all the makings of an excellent show plant. To be given the clonal name ‘Hetton Victory’ with reference to Peter’s abode, he had raised it from seed sown in 2008, originally using P. ‘Broadwell Milkmaid’ as the seed parent (the label described it as an F8 hybrid), cross-pollinated with P. allionii ‘Mary Berry’ and P. x meridiana ‘Miniera’.
Hybridising and selecting promising forms is second nature to daffodil specialists. Anne Wright exhibited several of her always admired dwarf Narcissus hybrids, the largest clump a delicate lemon/sulphur N. obesus x triandus of her raising. This selected form, now into its second decade, and on occasion produces twinned flowers – an inheritance from its N. triandus sire, whose influence is otherwise muted, the corollas approaching the size of the seed parent.
A further hybrid, this time between two North American androsaces, was shown by Tommy Anderson. Androsace idahoensis x laevigata, seldom seen nowadays, combines the neat foliage of A. idahoensis with large A. laevigata-type flowers, more freely produced and more tightly grouped than either parent.
Our shows afford an opportunity to view plants native to alpine areas the world over. Saxifraga columnaris, exhibited by Geoff Mawson, is a very slow-growing Caucasian plant with heavily lime-encrusted leaves and very short flowering stems. In cultivation for just over 20 years, this is sometimes lauded as the most beautiful of all the Porophyllum species, though you will need to exercise both patience and attention to detail in order to produce a plant of the standard seen at Whitworth.
Growing such challenging plants from seed and maintaining them through to full maturity can be very rewarding. Over 20 years ago, Alan Furness sowed seed of the dwarf, Chinese Rhododendron uniflorum var. imperator. Six seedlings came up and were planted in his Northumberland garden. One of them, by now 36cm wide but just 10cm tall, was potted up and brought to the Show where it was judged the best plant and awarded The Farrer Medal. Alan makes his own ericaceous compost, substituting perlite for grit and adding leaf-mould.
Another of Alan’s plants, Saxifraga retusa subsp. augustana, received a Certificate of Merit. Typically found growing on calcareous rocks in the French and Italian Alps, it has more flowers per cyme than the more widespread subsp. retusa, which occurs (often locally) from the Pyrenees as far east as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Probably admired more by fellow exhibitors than any other on the day, it came from the stock once shown by Duncan Lowe, who received a Farrer Medal for his plant, shown at Newcastle, which received The Farrer Medal almost exactly 30 years ago, in April 1987. Grown by Alan in a shaded sand bed, his plant was lifted and potted up using the same sand bed medium.
Another European plant, easily obtainable and reliable but not easy to maintain in tidy condition if pot grown: Colin & Kathleen Billington’s Polygala chamaebuxus ‘Grandiflora’ was awarded The Merlewood Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate Section. A suckering shrublet from western central Europe, this was a well-flowered specimen (it will continue to bloom sparsely throughout mild winters).
Further Certificates of Merit were awarded to Geoff Rollinson for the largest of his several Primula ‘Broadwell Milkmaid’ (a further example of this excellent selection, exhibited by Alan Elwell, was awarded the Booker Trophy for the best plant in Novice Section) and to Don Peace for Fritillaria tubiformis in his winning small six-pan entry. Indeed, fritillarias were well represented throughout the Open Section 19cm pan classes. Two of the most accomplished on display were Fritillaria pinardii (Don Peace again) [right] and Fritillaria kittaniae, exhibited by Vic & Janet Aspland [below].
The former is a particularly widespread and variable species, found from western Turkey to Armenia, western Iran and the Lebanon. Vic & Janet’s potful, staged not far away, was rather dwarfer, the stems carrying between two and four flowers apiece. Thought to represent a ancestral hybrid between Fritillaria carica and F. pinardii, F. kittaniae found in only one area of south-western Turkey. This example had attractive yellow flowers, showing its F. carica component, striped with brown.
Trilliums are familiar plants at the spring shows and several clumps of T. rivale, from Oregon and California, were present. Also from these states and similarly winter dormant, Scoliopus bigelovii is only rarely shown – perhaps because in the warmth of a show hall, the fetid odour of its stylised flowers can be overpowering. The heavily purple-mottled young leaves are somewhat similar to those of the spotted leaf Chinese cypripediums. Dave Mountfort’s grows this woodlander in a well-drained ericaceous compost in a north-facing frame.
There has been a great swell of interest in hepaticas and specialist nurseries now stock a wide range, especially the double-petalled and other remarkable flower forms of Hepatica japonica. Of North American origin, on the other hand, H. ‘Millstream Merlin’ is a semi-double, the flowers royal blue tinged with purple. Della Kerr had a particularly good plant of this, which won the Jim Lever Memorial Trophy for the best pan of Ranunculaceae.
Author: Chris Lilley
Photographers: Don Peace and Jim Almond