Midland AGS Show, 2017
What a difference a year makes! In 2016 I battled through a blizzard, driving rain and snow making driving rather challenging. This time round could not be more different as the day dawned dry (although still cold), bright, and with plenty of sunshine promised. One obstacle had not changed: the eternal road works on the M5, involving mile after mile of traffic cones and a 50 mph speed limit. Fortunately this did not delay my journey too much and I arrived in good time. Upon entering the hall it was encouraging to find a hive of activity, with exhibitors placing their plants and the show organizers dealing with all the paperwork.
As a judge I try to make a mental note of the plants I wish to write about as I go round, though in practice my real work starts after judging has finished and the principal prize-winning entries have been settled upon.
I would like to start with the Open Section large pan Lewisia class, which is often keenly contested. Unfortunately there were no entries in the class last year due the vagaries of the season. Some excellent entries put things right this time round, in particular the largest and most phenomenally well-flowered example of Lewisia cotyledon ‘Ashwood Ruby’ we have seen in many years. Unanimously voted the recipient of the Roy Elliott Memorial Salver and also receiving a Certificate of Merit, it was also in contention for the Farrer Medal. Grown by show secretary John Harrison, these plaudits acted as a salute for all the work he puts in to ensure the show takes place.
Not all the plants worthy of mention are necessarily first prize winners and one that I was particularly taken by had been entered in the 19cm Ranunculaceae class. We often see pulsatillas at this show, often as rather large, mature plants. Not so in this case: Brian Burrow’s excellent white form of Pulsatilla halleri subsp. slavica, less than 15cm high, was a first class example of the epitome of an alpine plant. Native to the western Carpathians, it is one of five (six, if you include subsp. subslavica) presently recognized.
The same exhibitor was compensated for not getting the red sticker by winning the three pan new or rare class. It was good to see the return of Androsace rotundifolia [left] again as this has been missing from the show bench for many years, as such qualifying for the distinction of being rare. This together with Salix x margarita (a rare Scottish native hybrid between S. aurita and S. herbacea) and Gaultheria tricophylla made up the winning combination. The latter had been nurtured from a small fragment that arrived wrapped in moss from the Himalayas some 30 years ago, from a collection by George Smith. Although old, the plant was still in 19cm pot and in flower for those who chose to look closely. The tiny pink flowers give rise to large blue berries in the autumn.
There was stiff competition in this class with an excellent example of three difficult South African wurmbeas from George Elder. W. marginata and W. recurva are often considered to be of ‘botanical interest’ only but to see them grown to perfection, after many years of careful cultivation, went a long way to dispel this assumption. By far the most attractive of the three however was W. burtti [right] with its large white flowers, touched with darker spots, which must have persuaded many to change their minds about this genus. They also proved a challenge for the show photographer.
Having previously mentioned Androsace rotundifolia it is perhaps timely to mention Lionel Clarkson’s exhibit, named as this but after much debate re-determined as A. geranifolia, another plant that we see all too rarely. The most readily observable distinction is in the leaves, those of A. geranifolia deeply divided into three lobes, whereas in A. rotundifolia this is less evident. Lionel was having a good day as he also collected the Blackthorn Trophy for a three-pan entry of Daphne.
An eclectic range of plants from Australasia gave the judges pause for thought. They finally awarded the red card to Ian Kidman’s specimen of Leucopogon suaveolens, a delightful, well flowered small shrub from south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. The same exhibitor also gained the Edinburgh Quaich for best pan of Ericaceae with a superbly flowered Cassiope ‘Slipstream’, a wardii hybrid in the George Taylor Group. It is also worth mentioning that Ian produced the tricky American Viola douglasii and although considered a little tall it was very well flowered, a feat not often achieved in cultivation.
I cannot remember seeing Verbascum dumulosum at this show before (it used to appear regularly at the later, much-missed Malvern show in May). However David Richards managed to produce an excellent example. This species is considered by some not to be completely hardy but the specimen on show has been grown for at least eight years in an unheated alpine house without any problems. However it is still advisable to take cuttings both as an insurance policy and to assist in its distribution.
It was good to see that Alan and Janet Cook are still producing their excellent plants, gaining them not only won an AGS medal for their large pot size, six pan exhibit, but also a Certificate of Merit for the Turkish Saxifraga exarata subsp. adenophora (a dubious taxon but a very distinctive ‘mossy’ dating back to a collection from Ilgaz Dağ in the mid-1990s. Tim Lever, over in Ireland for the day but represented on the show bench, also gained a Certificate of Merit for his superb pan of the tricky Iris lacustris ‘Captain Collingwood’.
It was also a good day for another regular exhibitor, Don Peace, who further added to his tally in the overall aggregate by winning the best plant raised from seed a dark-flowered Fritillaria pyreniaca, an AGS medal for the small six-pan class and the Midland Challenge Cup for the best plant in a 19cm pot, a heavily flowered F. meleagris ’Saturnus’ [left] that needs daily watering from the time that the flower buds appear. It came as no surprise then that he also took the Leschallas Cup for the Open Section aggregate.
Further mention must be made of those exhibitors taking their first steps in showing. Judging from the quality of the plants exhibited, it will not be very long before they are in the Open Section. Lesley Travis, a local exhibitor, produced a beautiful example of that old show favourite Gypsophila aretioides ‘Caucasica’. Perfectly grown with no blemishes or dead patches, it would not have looked out of place in the Open Section. The judges also appreciated her efforts, awarding it the Crataegus Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate Section. This together with her other exhibits contributed to her winning the Albury Trophy for the Intermediate Section aggregate.
Also in the same section were two charming exhibits staged by Brenda Nickels. She had two plants that caught my eye, one a fine example of Tiarella wherryi, the second an excellent example of Phlox subulata ‘Bonita’ [left], both straightforward to grow and readily available from nurseries. Such class-winning entries help to dispel the myth that you can only win at AGS shows if you have an alpine house and concentrate on rare and difficult plants.
In the Novice Section it was encouraging to see some good competition resulting in a tie for the Perry Cup between Neville Morris and Janet Pepper. [Photo: Aruncus aesthusifolius exhibited by Janet Pepper]
Finally I must mention the plant adjudged best in show and as such worthy of the Farrer Medal. It was no real surprise that the same plant had won the same award the week before, down in Kent: it was still in superb condition. Congratulations to Ivan Pinnick for his Ramonda nathaliae grown from a 1960s introduction by Jim Archibald under the collection number JCA686. Ivan suggests that the plant has benefited from a move to a shallow pan from a full pot, and from division. The results were dazzling.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank John Harrison and all his helpers for their hospitality and for the organisation and smooth running of this excellent show.
Author: Eric Jarrett
Photographers: Jon Evans and Don Peace