Pershore AGS Show, 2017
A summer show is always worthwhile because it provides the opportunity to see a range of plants that do not appear at any of the many earlier shows, or at the few autumn ones. For some of us it comes as something of a relief to escape the dazzle of faultless domes of androsaces, dionysias and saxifrages; in plants as in every other focus of interest in our lives, familiarity does indeed breed, if not contempt, at least an undeniable lessening of enthusiasm. So, it was with a spring in my step that I entered the show hall and I am glad to report that I was not to be disappointed. While no plant had the ‘wow’ factor that announces to one and all that it undeniably merits the Farrer Medal, there were many excellent and some noteworthy plants on display, mainly in the Open and Intermediate Sections, there sadly being only seven entries in the Novice Section.
After an interesting discussion among the judges, an exceptional pan of the by no means easy Campanula fragilis, shown by Edward Spencer of Egginton, was adjudged Best in Show and worthy of the Farrer. As the name implies, the many stems arising from the perennial woody rootstock are fragile and easily damaged, making it all the more difficult to bring a large plant such as this to the bench in such good condition.
Close on its heels was a splendid 30cm pan of the diminutive Allium kurtzianum shown by Jan Aspland; a search in the AGS Bulletin turned up a photograph of the very same group, albeit smaller in number and in a 6” pot, when it received a PC at Pershore almost exactly 11 years earlier! This species, not just scarce in cultivation, is of limited distribution in the wild, having been found in just one or two NW Turkish localities, this sampling from near the summit of Kaz Dağ, from whence seed was collected under several numbers by the gloriously productive 1966 Albury, Cheese and Watson expedition; the plants shown were originally raised from collection no. ACW 2375. Like many of the smaller, choicer alliums this relishes prolonged confinement in a pot, but is apparently not difficult in the open garden, in a raised bed or rich scree. Propagation is by seed, usually freely set, (but not leading to invasive spread), or by division of the bulb clusters when dormant in late summer.
While discussing onions, another that caught my eye was the potful of an unnamed species from 1,500m in the Zeravshan Mts, Uzbekistan, collected by the late Jim Archibald in 2002 (Allium sp. JCA 17537), one of three pans of bulbs that won the Frank Baldrick Memorial Trophy for Bob and Rannveig Wallis. ‘Interesting’ is a fair description of this species, which the exhibitors explained, ‘grows easily in gritty compost under cover with a dry summer rest and water through the winter and early spring, but does not increase’ – a welcome change from some species!
Returning to campanulas, it gave many present much pleasure to see, in the large six-pan class won by Lee and Julie Martin, an excellent plant of Campanula ‘Joan Beeston’, the name chosen by its raisers, Keith and Rachel Lever of Aberconwy Nursery, to commemorate a close friend and one of the staunchest, most liked members of our Society, who, along with her equally admired husband Ron, ran a ‘must-go-to’ alpine nursery for many years, and sadly passed away last year. This plant cropped up in the nursery among seedlings of open-pollinated Campanula raineri.
Another hybrid bearing the name of a famous nurseryman is C. ‘Joe Elliott’, also a chance seedling which turned up at Joe’s Broadwell Nursery sometime in the 1970s, the seed parent being C. morettiana and the pollen donor presumed to be C. raineri. A well grown specimen won the class for one pan Campanulaceae in the Intermediate Section for Lawrence Peet of Harrogate, who received the Florence Baker Memorial Trophy for the most aggregate points therein. Also of note was a tremendous C. asperuloides, which secured a Certificate of Merit for Paul and Gill Ranson.
Alstroemerias are among my favourite plants for the summer rock garden, although ruthlessness is required to limit the spread of some, especially in areas with mild winters – you have been warned! The majority are not really suitable for showing, and there were only a few at Pershore, but the two that took my fancy are unlikely to cause problems. I have grown A. hookeri on and off for 30 years, raised seed from Watson and Flores collections, and I have just planted out a potful of seedlings in a very sharply drained scree; here on the N. Wales coast they may well survive for several seasons, but eventually a cold wet winter will do for them. A very neat potful of a dusky pink form with buff reverses to the opening tepals won a first for Lee and Julie Martin as part of their AGS Medal-winning small six-pan entry.
Three times the height and therefore of dubious value as a show plant, but receiving a good deal of attention because of the unusual orange/biscuit colour of its speckled flowers, was a lowland form of A. versicolor, endemic to the central valley and central southern cordilleras of Chile to south of, and including, Santiago at 250-2,000m. The much dwarfer alpine form has been grown outside without protection in Scotland but that shown is grown in a pot with winter protection in Southampton.
Triteleia, all of which come from the western states of N. America, centred on California, are good bulbs for the summer rock garden, mixing well with some of the more restrained alstroemerias and larger alliums such as A. cernuum and A. insubricum. I have seen T. laxa in flower in several locations in the Golden State and taking note of the habitats in which it grows have cultivated various forms without trouble in poor soil in full sun in our garden. Several forms were on show, the more usual dark violet blue and one I particularly liked called ‘Foxy’, with violet ribbing of the almost white tepals, Apparently it is very similar to ‘Rudy’ (sometimes sold as ‘Rudy Kleiner’); other forms available include a fine lilac one called ‘4U’.
The Marsh helleborine, Epipactis palustris, was in flower at the time of the show in its tens of thousands on dune slacks on the Isle of Anglesey near my home: I go to see it most years. Two forms were shown, one quite near to the native British wild form, only 15 cm high with relatively large flowers, the other much taller and more vigorous with smaller flowers. No need to grow this in a marsh: it will be happy in a pot of well-drained but fairly rich soil, kept dryish when out of growth but receiving copious amounts of water in late spring and summer.
A much rarer orchid in cultivation, the diminutive Chinese woodlander Anoectochilus formosanus is one of about 50 species, known in China as Jewel Orchids because of their attractive leaf venation. This was shown by Alan Newton in the three pan ‘new or rare’ class with notes indicating that it is grown in deep shade in the alpine house all year.
Ben Parmee had a range of insectivorous plants, all very well grown, including a tiny Australian pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis, taxonomically interesting as it is unrelated to Sarracenia and Nepenthes, having a genus and even a family (Cephalotaceae) to itself. This requires protection from frost and is best kept drier than most pitcher plants, especially in winter. It will grow happily in deep shade but tolerates brighter light, which enhances the pitchers’ red pigmentation. It is successfully propagated from root and leaf cuttings, although the pitchers can also be used. A dormancy period is probably crucial to long-term health of the plant. Herbarium specimens of C. follicularis were first collected during the visit of the HMS Investigator to King George Sound in December 1801 and January 1802. On 2 January 1802 the expedition's botanist, Robert Brown wrote in his diary: "Remained on board. Described a few plants. Mr Good went in search of the pitcher plant which Messrs Bauer & Westall had found yesterday in flower. He returned with it in the evening."
Finally, there were many good shrubs shown including Juniperus horizontalis ‘Neumann’ which won the Glebelands Trophy for the most attractive foliage plant for David Richards. Another that caught my attention was Scutelleria suffrutescens ‘Texas Rose’ shown by Vic Aspland, which was a dome of bright shiny foliage liberally adorned with attractive dusky rose skullcaps. This is a selected form collected in 1986 near Horsetail Falls, west of Monterrey, Mexico. It requires very well drained soil and full sun and is a good trough plant.
Author: John Good
Photographer: Jon Evans