Loughborough AGS Show, 2017
Moving from an inaugural, longstanding location to a new venue (in this case Shepshed High School, a few miles further west) always gives rise to slight concern: will the move prove a success? Resoundingly yes in this case: the hall offered excellent natural lighting, the plant sales and the catering area were conveniently adjacent, and a good growing season so far this year assisted by a high turnout of exhibitors produced an astonishing spectacle for the public and members alike. Over 700 plants and 79 exhibitors, who mustered a large number of mature dionysias, kabschia saxifrages and Primula allionii clones in particular, with an amazing variety of bulbs, shrubs, rhododendrons and many more in support.
While judging began on time, the sheer number, excellence and variety of plants led to lengthy debates, especially when it came to voting for the various awards. The location of the AGS Members plant sales at the rear of the hall, near the entrance, allowed for a barrier of chairs which allowed the public to observe proceedings, but the size of the task at hand caused judging to run over the allotted 11 a.m. opening time: the natives were getting pretty restless half an hour later, when the final votes were being cast. Listening to the comments and questions from visitors when they were free to look round the show, I think they all felt the wait was worthwhile.
The Farrer Medal was awarded to Dionysia sarvestanica subsp. spathulata (under the collectors’ number T4Z 1044, referencing the productive 2002 expedition). Part of an all-yellow, victorious large six-pan AGS medal group, made up entirely of Iranian members of the genus and their hybrids, it wasn’t the largest cushion on display (several bright yellow domes of D. aretioides vied for that crown) but it is difficult to flower really well, or to maintain in good health. Received as a cutting, it had taken 8-9 years to grow to this size, exhibitors Paul and Gill Ranson told me.
Orchids, hardy and near-hardy, were mainly shown by specialist Barry Tatersall. His fascinating Myrmechila truncata, a miniature Australian species that he has nurtured for ten years, is grown in a very acid compost that incorporates peat and a well-known supermarket’s brand of cat litter. Watered well in autumn, the pot is placed in the sand plunge, then not watered again until earliest spring and given a dry rest in the summer. It is repotted every year with added fertiliser.
A very compact Callianthemum farreri in the class for one pan Papaveraceae or Ranunculaceae was shown by Alan Furness and housed in an impressive clay long tom pot, some 45cm tall. Alan explained that it has a very long large root system, developed in just three years. This Chinese species is closer to true blue than any other in the genus; known to Farrer, it has only become established in cultivation over the past decade or so.
Another of his exhibits, a dwarf, high altitude form of Narcissus alpestris, had taken 14 years to attain a substantial clump, and received The Royal Bank of Scotland Award for the best pan of bulbous plants against heavyweight competition, for there were some particularly good dwarf irises and fritillarias elsewhere in the hall. Another rival, Lee and Julie Martin’s Tecophilaea cyanocrocus, received the American Trophy: some exhibits are overfed and, while well-flowered, are too leafy, whereas this provided a far preferable balance of flower over foliage. Lee has been nurturing this stock for around 24 years, repotting the bulbs in a mix of mainly leaf-mould, grit and perlite, and giving them a short dry spell in summer.
The Intermediate Section AGS six pan award went to Lawrence Peet. Included in his six pans was the pale yellow Saxifraga ‘Evening Star’, a Karel Lang hybrid from the turn of the twentieth century that was here shown under its anglicised appellation; strictly speaking, it should be called S. ‘Večerní Hvězda’. Not as big yet as some of its relatives on the bench but a challenge to flower well, it looked at its peak but had in fact been in blooming, on and off, since January.
Also in the Intermediate Section, two nice exhibits from Tony Stanley: Dionysia ‘Adora’ (odora x tapetodes), which he keeps in the plunge in a long tom pot, and a nice three pan of Dionysia ‘Anielle’, Primula ‘Joan Hughes’ and Trillium nivale [photo: Lawrence Peet's T. nivale at this show]. In the Novice Section Sue Miles won with a lovely white, violet-anthered Hepatica japonica x yamatutai and Ian Sutton had a promising Dionysia tapetodes.
All in all a wonderful display of alpines and it was nice to be reminded of our late friend Joan Beeston by several plants of the lovely Dionysia aretioides ‘Bevere’, named for the Worcester alpine plant nursery that she and her husband Ron ran so successfully.
Author: Jo Walker
Photographer: Jon Evans and Jim Almond