South Wales AGS Show, 2017
The first show of the year took up in some respects from where the last one of 2016 (held four months earlier at Sutton Valence in late October 2016) left off. Once again, there was a veritable cornucopia of crocuses – some of them very seldom exhibited – and a fine turnout (much amplified this time round) of snowdrops, said to be largely past their best in the west of the country overall, though on the drive home I saw some tremendous drifts on high, later bracken-covered banks south-west of Usk, then later on village greens, and in hedgerows as far north-east as Rutland.
The often noted north/south divide was transmuted, meteorologically, into an east/west split, with generally milder winter conditions in much of Wales reflected in Tim Lever’s abundantly flowered Tecophilaea cyanocrocus (other exhibitors remarked that theirs were barely through the ground, destined to flower at least a month later) and some precocious examples of Primula allionii (from Gloucestershire, Eric Jarrett brought a fine example of the thrum-eyed, delicate pink, furl-petalled clone ‘Daniel Burrow’, defying the onetime edict that March 1st – nearly a fortnight away – is the date when this species is at its peak.
The show date saw numerous species of Crocus in their prime, among them Denise Bridges’ Crocus sieberi ‘Bowles’s White’ (uniform as seen but some commercial stocks are hopelessly mixed, with a 50:50 white/lavender split, and the petals are often fluked to boot), John Dixon’s C. thirkeanus (the stoloniferous Ulu Dağ race of onetime C. gargaricus, until recently labelled C. herbertii: it often flops badly when subjected to show hall conditions but this time performed faultlessly), George Elder’s fellow Turk from slightly further north, on the outskirts of Istanbul, C. pestallozae, and an eastern countryman, your reporter’s C. pseudonubigena [left], latterly raised to species level, and mainly recorded from the area around Gaziantep, not far from the Syrian border, east to Van, at 500-1,300m, typically in Quercus scrub. The grouping on show derived from a visit to Halkis Dağ by Norman Stevens, who inadvertently entered a military zone and got arrested for his troubles.
Eclipsing them all was Ian Robertson’s spectacular 26cm pan of C. ‘Midas Touch’, brought indoors just before judging commenced so that it was in its prime. Raised by Alan Edwards from seed supplied by his longstanding friend Lynn Bezzant in 1989, it blends Cretan C. sieberi with (it is deduced) Greek C. cvijicii – a fecund parent: I’ve also seen a putative hybrid involving this and C. reticulatus.
This was the closest contender among several other candidates for the Farrer Medal, which went instead to Jim McGregor’s venerable clump of Colchicum hungaricum, seed raised so long ago that the details have been forgotten, but uniform, and evoking memories of the exhibit that received the same award, at the same show, in 2010 for Jim and Jenny Archibald. This is one of the very few late winter/earliest spring species that can be obtained reliably from nurserymen and at an affordable price. He also showed a small pot of a whitish form: several of these are currently grown but you will have to hunt far and wide to obtain a glistening albino.
Snowdrop cultivars have never been so popular, so numerous (and so pricey, for that matter). Don Peace brought along a strong contingent, once again winning the Galanthus Goblet with G. ‘Sophie North’. He also had particularly good clumps of G. ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ [right] (the long-standing debate over its separation from the similar ‘Primrose Warburg’ appears to be at an end, thanks to some determined sleuthing by Jim Jermyn, who was responsible for its first appearance in public back in his nurseryman days), G. rizehensis ‘Baytop’ and G. fosteri (from seed sown in December 1997: assembling a good collection of snowdrops is emphatically not a routine exercise in chequebook gardening).
In the Intermediate Section, once again Bob Worsley brought along a fine assortment, including G. ‘Melanie Broughton’, and in another class G. ‘Isobell Blakeway-Phillips’ and G. ‘Sibbertoft Magnet’, though his ace in the pack this time was a Peter Davis collection from Georgia (unusually: Davis famously concentrated his efforts on the Turkish flora), under the number 33643 [left], apparently a straightforward G. plicatus accession, but looking like the most fulsome of garden hybrids and with clear vigour: one bulb, purchased five years ago from North Green Snowdrops (John Morley’s enterprise) had formed a handsome clump, apparently appreciating the shade cast by an adjacent Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ in summer. Denise Bridges, another mainstay of the Section, had that connoisseur’s choice, G. nivalis ‘Alan’s Treat’, punningly referencing its champion Alan Street (of Avon Bulbs) and yet another attractively green-tipped representative.
Not merely green-tipped but green overall, a recent addition to the ranks of early-flowering Ranunculaceae in gardens, Coptis omeiensis, is a SW Chinese species not restricted to Emei Shan (the mountain from which it takes its name), nor inhabiting the woodland floor, as one might imagine – Flora of China gives its habitat as ‘cliffs, fissures of rocks, 1,000-1,700m’. The two plants exhibited by Lorraine & Chris Birchall represented an unusually dwarf selection, with dark, shiny stems to around 10-12cm, bearing up to four yellowish-green flowers, with narrow, flicked-back petals. The dark green, glossy foliage had barely come into growth but is ornamental in its own right later on. Nothing like as showy as the white-flowered, Japanese/Taiwanese C. quinquefolia, its understated sophistication appealed to some but was lost on others, who unfeelingly dismissed it as rather squinny. The bark chip topdressing harmonised, while subtly conveying the moist, part-shaded conditions required.
The Coptis was only given independent ranking in 1965; two years earlier, from material sourced on Mt Lebanon, Peter Davis (that man again) and his associate at Edinburgh, James Cullen, described the Section Leonticoides affiliate, truly dwarf Corydalis erdelii, also from southern Anatolia and the likely identity of a plant obtained many years ago by George Elder as C. oppositifolia, to whose close amalgam of half a dozen species it clearly belongs.
This, seen as a densely huddled, even mass of whitish, purple-spurred flowers early on, attenuated as the day wore on but fully deserved its Certificate of Merit, so too a second such gong for the southern Africa, showy Lapeirousia oreogena (from seed to flowering size takes a minimum of five years to achieve). George also brought along its extraordinary western Karoo countryman Daubenya aurea in both rich yellow and bright red colour morphs, patiently seed-raised again.
Bob and Rannveig Wallis, having witnessed their usual plants for this show in flower up to a month previously, came up with numerous equally accomplished replacements. In their AGS Medal winning small six-pan entry, a rarity both in gardens and in its Troodos Mts homeland, Chionodoxa lochiae, looked deceptively vigorous. Corydalis tauricola – another Cullen and Davis coining from southern Turkey, was notably floriferous and upright (a car journey sometimes causes it to flop – while elsewhere, their much larger pot of C. popovii was considered for the Farrer Medal, though a newcomer from Uzbekistan, in which the flowers are white except at their charcoal nose rather than pink-flushed, as is usual with this species, gave them at least as much pleasure.
It’s several years since Mike and Christine Brown last drove down from West Kirby to attend this show, but this time round they were present in loco parentis with a very fine, large-flowered Cyclamen alpinum (the fourth and last Certificate of Merit awarded), which is now the property of Peter Farkasch – they have a long-standing habit of gifting their best plants – who in turn wasn’t present but had sent it to Caerleon with a friend’s help, shown for the last time in its benefactors name.
Not a noteworthy show, overall, for the genus – Lee and Julie Martin, however, had a very serviceable C. coum, which made up an eye-catching large three-pan entry along with Amana edulis and what they had received as Iris winogradowii ‘Alba’ (which it was not – but presumably the same, significantly smaller-flowered hybrid listed by Jānis Rukšāns in his 2007 catalogue, received from a Czech source and ‘with almost white flowers only very lightly bluish shaded on falls around lemon yellow ridge’. The other stand-out entry among the reticulata group irises was David Richards’ I. histrioides ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’, with 30 or more flowers in pristine condition.
In hindsight, it is possible to observe that what would prove a notable spring for Dionysia exhibits didn’t get fully into its stride for another week or more; nonetheless Paul and Gill Ranson showed large, very well-flowered half-pots of D. tapetodes ‘Sulphur’ and the hybrid D. ‘Corona’, which has corollas at least twice the size of its seed parent D. curviflora, and performs more reliably.
Author: Robert Rolfe
Photographer: Jon Evans