Pershore Early AGS Show, 2017
With so many popular alpine genera performing quite early in recent years, February once again turned up trumps with a second successful show to provide the perfect kick start to the year. Over 400 plants were staged by 39 exhibitors. Dwarf conifers, foliage plants and ferns provided the backdrop to numerous flowering plants with the bulbous classes holding centre stage. There was no shortage of Primulaceae either with Dionysia, Cyclamen and Primula allionii forms all well represented.
Ypsilandra thibetica is a familiar plant on the bench at the early shows, frequently championed by Diane Clement whose plant, normally seen in March, was hastened into flower early by the milder conditions. The judges were impressed by it too and it was voted a worthy Farrer medal winner. In nature, it grows in moist places which never dry out in summer, such as forests and shady slopes along valleys at 1,300–2,900 m in south and west China/Taiwan. From a basal rosette of leaves, spikes of honeyed, almond-scented flowers arise.
Diane’s plant was bought from Crûg Farm Plants about 18 years ago as a single flowering spike. A shady trough containing ericaceous compost, leaf-mould and perlite was the original home and it was lifted for shows before being returned there. In recent years, it has become quite large and has been grown permanently outside in a 32cm pot, totally unprotected during the winter. The leaves can discolour and get rather nibbled by pests, so any damaged ones are removed before the flowers emerge. It has proved to be a very hardy, long-lived plant, excellent for a woodland garden. Viable seed has never been set but it can be propagated by leaf cuttings or division.
A February show is guaranteed to produce many fine snowdrops and a much admired small pan of Galanthus ‘Philippe Andre Meyer’, a much more recent acquisition, was also brought along by Diane. Obtained as a single bulb in January 2016, this has multiplied to produce ten flowering sized bulbs plus more offsets. Whilst the naming of G. plicatus ‘Trym’ seedlings is frequently overdone nowadays, this showy selection, with appealing recurved outer segments, was named by Mark Brown after assessing its vigour and garden worth for several years. Those not smitten with ‘white fever’ may baulk at the terms ‘inverse poculiform’ and ‘pterugiform’ being used to describe the flower. It’s basically a fine, very attractive snowdrop, in the mould of G. ‘South Hayes’ suitable for garden or pot use and currently setting a standard for vigour, not always matched by other ‘Trym’ ‘lookalikes’.
By comparison, Galanthus elwesii subsp. monostictus, featuring amongst the trophy presentation list, was a more traditional snowdrop and judged the best plant from the Novice and Intermediate ranks. Lesley Travis, the recipient of the Susan Clements Memorial trophy, having made the transition from Novice to Intermediate Section and entering only her fourth show, was suitably delighted. Her stock, obtained some six years previously had been grown in a plastic plot plunged in the garden, then brought into the cold greenhouse once the flower buds were developing. It was perfect on the day, the warmth of the hall encouraging the outer segments to rise up and fly.
Moving the theme from garden to alpine house, Iris rosenbachiana ‘Darwas form’ continued a run of red stickered juno Iris exhibits for Ivor Betteridge. A single bulb obtained eight years previously had slowly increased, creating a tight cluster of four bulbs, well flowered on the day. This species is utterly unforgiving of careless watering, when faded flowers may encounter water lodged within the leaves – a recipe for Botrytis-accelerated doom. The gospel according to Tony Hall (see The Alpine Gardener vol. 66, pp 282-295) had been dutifully followed since that time. Clay pot cultivation within a sand plunge, kept moist throughout the growing cycle then drastically reduced during its summer dormancy is the key to success. Regular autumn repotting provides fresh nutrients but junos are greedy plants so supplementary liquid high potash feeds given whenever a manual watering was needed, to help maintain a free flowering habit.
Bob and Rannveig Wallis unloaded a bootful of fine bulbous plants and amongst their many plants was an example of the ‘Queen of Spain’ – Narcissus x johnstonii, a natural hybrid between N. pseudonarcissus and N. triandrus. There is more than one introduction in cultivation, the provenance of the plant exhibited unknown but it is a delight, easy to grow and rather slow to increase. Twin-scaling helps to accelerate the process of producing sufficient bulbs for the showbench and the pan exhibited, not too crowded, was proof indeed, a single bulb having been put to the knife a few years earlier.
The Mooney Cup awarded for the Open Section aggregate was clinched by Paul and Gill Ranson. They also received a Certificate of Merit for Dionysia tapetodes ‘Sulphur’. Dionysia tapetodes is the one species within the genus that is widespread in the wild. As a result, there are many clones in cultivation and seed is regularly set. Initially circulated as JRD C7, ‘Sulphur’ was raised in 1987 by John Dixon who pollinated an efarinose clone (possibly PF8964) with pollen from the farinose H1164. The resultant plant is also efarinose and the flowers which are full petalled, overlap to produce a full canopy. Like other efarinose clones it is slow-growing and compact, the plant exhibited having taken 20 years to reach a diameter of 21cm. It has only been repotted five times in its life in a mix of approximately 20% John Innes no. 2, 60% grit, 10% Seramis and 10% perlite.
One of the most unusual exhibits in the ‘raised from seed’ classes was a ‘container’ brimming with the starry blue flowers of Anemone caucasica. It was unusual in that Alan Newton had left no-one in doubt as to the appropriateness of the exhibit, the ‘container’ a seed tray! Was it according to schedule? Heads were duly scratched, measuring tapes produced and after the dimensions had been carefully measured, it was deemed acceptable. Alan’s own seed had been collected from plants in his garden and sown fresh in the seed tray during 2014 using a gritty ericaceous mix as the sowing substrate. The tray had been permanently sited in a shady spot in the garden and the seedlings had, much to their liking, remained undisturbed since germination.
To the new exhibitor, a little help and coaching are vital ingredients to success. Just two exhibitors appeared in the Novice Section and Joyce Austin went away with the Henry Hammer Cup for the most first prize points. She had been encouraged several years ago, to grow (and maybe show) alpines by former Director of Shows Jim McGregor. Singled out for inclusion here, a small seedling from Primula x allionii ex ‘Pennine Pink’, one of Jim’s gifted plants at that time, had been grown on in an Access frame. Using a gritty John Innes no. 2 mix growing medium, the plant occupied a clay pot plunged in the shadier part of the frame.
The Ashwood Trophy for best plant in a 19cm pot went to a well-flowered pan of Gymnospermium albertii. From a family predominantly made up of shrubs, Vic Aspland was on the trail of this oddity during the early 1980s, finally finding a plant offered for sale in 1985. After noting the habitat details in the ‘The Bulb Book’ (Martyn Rix and Roger Philips) it became clear that this was a snowmelt plant, best kept completely dry during its long summer dormancy. A sharply drained compost of 50% mixed grit and sharp sand plus 50% loam-based compost in conjunction with a clay pot was used. Checking back, the last repot was carried out in 2005, still using an 18cm pot. A raised sand plunge frame (see The Alpine Gardener vol. 75, p. 63) with the pot plunged on the sunny side, has met with the plant’s requirements over the years. This frame is kept reasonably moist during the winter/spring growing period but afterwards is almost but not quite dry during the summer. The spartan conditions seem to be mandatory. It is not a plant for those in a hurry or, as Vic aptly put it, make haste slowly!
Whilst reading through this report, it’s clear that with such diverse ways of growing, propagating and exhibiting alpine plants, anyone contemplating exhibiting would be well advised to peruse the AGS show reports as a ‘fast track’ to success. Exhibitors give their recipes for success and secrets away quite freely for all to try. The ‘fast track’ may involve anything up to 30 years of careful cultivation, with regular or just occasional repotting. Red stickers may come along the way but it is the satisfaction from successful growing, gained over those years, that counts most!
Author: Jim Almond
Photographer: Jim Almond