Harlow Carr AGS Show, 2017
Familiar autumn-flowering genera at AGS shows such as Crocus, Cyclamen and Gentiana invariably win most of the trophies. Yet for the second year running, at Harlow Carr these were all upstaged by another Farrer Medal-winning recipient, in this case Dave Mountfort’s Petrocosmea minor. This Chinese gesneriad, restricted to shaded limestone rock faces in south-eastern Yunnan, is a relative newcomer, introduced during the late 1990s. The much longer cultivated P. kerrii (from Myanmar, northern Thailand and southern Yunnan) has attracted the premier award at AGS Shows at least twice, many years ago, but until now has been the sole recipient within the genus.
Now that a generous range of other species are readily available in commerce, one can hope that others will be grown to an equal standard (the remarkable rosette on display was close to the size of a dinner plate, with tiny daughter offsets tucked in at the base of the petioles). Currently there are several forms of Petrocosmea minor in cultivation, differing in the intensity of their purplish flowers (and in the number per scape and their size: some in the specimen under discussion were campanulate rather than the hood-and-trilobed, expanded lip that is orthodox) and their foliage, the venation pronounced in one selection, their apices either rounded or, as in the medal plant, pointed.
Dave exhibited several other petrocosmeas including a trio with cultural instructions, and Petrocosmea cryptica, whose epithet refers to the unresolved identity of this species during the ten or more years since its distribution from a Chinese plant nursery in 1998. Now that the genus Petrocosmea has around 27 accepted species, as well as a few hybrids, quite a few now readily available in commerce; their newfound popularity is likely to strengthen.
Foliage plants are always well represented at our shows later in the year. Two entries in the Open Section rock plant with silver/grey foliage class displayed contrasting characteristics, both coincidentally producing yellow flowers in late spring to early summer. Centaurea clementei, a Knapweed native to south-western Spain where it inhabits limestone cliffs, was exhibited by Lee & Julie Martin and adjudged the best entry. Grown from seed collected in the Sierra Nevada, their plant’s appealing foliage structure can be better appreciated in the photograph than on the show bench.
The runner-up, David Charlton’s Fibigia triquetra, a rare Croatian member of the Brassicaceae, formed of a large, loose cushion, the foliage colour enhanced by sunlight shining through the large glass windows of the show hall.
The most compelling Crocus entry was exhibited by Lee & Julie Martin, their patience in bulking up a single corm rewarded by the bestowal of the Mr & Mrs W.H. Nortcliffe Memorial Trophy for the best entry in the 19cm classes with Crocus goulimyi ‘Lakonian Pearl’ (PN/RS 09/01). This had endured a two-day car journey up from Sussex to excel on the show bench. They also showed another late-blooming species, a form of Crocus laevigatus in which the white segments were yellow on their reverses. This has been distributed by Norman Stevens, who acquired it from Kath Dryden in the 1980s, having been summoned to her Sawbridgeworth home when one of her many cold frames collapsed: this rescue sampling was the pick of the crop.
Lee & Julie also received a Certificate of Merit for a mature, very dwarf conifer, exhibited as Cryptomeria japonica “Tenzan-sugi. This has an annual growth rate of less than 1cm, the foliage turning bronze-red in winter. The word ‘sugi’ in Japanese means ‘cedar’ and is considered redundant, so this conifer should be styled Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tenzan’. Another Certificate of Merit was awarded to Keith & Rachel Lever, for an appropriately named Gentiana ‘Compact Form’, with further examples available in the plant sales hall.
Autumn-flowering Saxifraga fortunei tends to bear small flowers coloured either white or in shades of pink to almost red. Mark Childerhouse’s exhibit of Saxifrage fortunei ‘Moe’, a striking cultivar with masses of greenish-cream complex double flowers, was considered outstanding when it received an AGM at the RHS Wisley Trial in 2014.
Jeff Hutchings exhibited Spiranthes spiralis, a British native commonly known as Autumn Lady’s-tresses. This orchid has a vast distribution area, where it is widespread but rare, from southern Sweden in the north to Iran in the east and North Africa to the south: in the UK it occurs as far north as Yorkshire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man. Pollination is effected by a highly-evolved mechanism encouraging efficient cross-fertilization usually involving aphids!
The Intermediate aggregate Carter Shield was awarded to Colin & Kathleen Billington, who also won the Colin Field Memorial Trophy, for a plant grown from spores of Cheilanthes tomentosa, commonly called the ‘woolly lip fern’, which is native to dry rocky places in parts of southern USA.
Michael Myers’s Arum pictum received the Kath Dryden Award for the best bulbous plant in the Intermediate and Novice Section. The flowers were just about to break, so the judges were grateful not to endure the fetid odour that it exudes when in full flower.
Ben Parmee gained the Novice Section Aggregate award, the Harrogate Salver, and also the West Riding Plate for the best plant in this section, a small-leaved, out of flower but rather appealing Cyclamen hederifolium.
Alan Newton’s small six-pan entry, which also included Petrocosmea minor, was awarded first prize for the second year in a row, which helped him gain the North of England Horticultural Society’s Cup for the Open Section aggregate.
Author: Chris Lilley
Photographer: Don Peace