South Wales AGS Show, 2018
An alpine morning heralded the beginning of the 2018 AGS Show Season in the south-west. No frost, fog, wind or rain; simply blue skies and a little weak sunshine. We were off to a good start – a great relief after the February fill-dyke weather of the past few weeks.
For me this event is a day of pure joy, the warm welcome from the small and friendly South Wales show team making an early start well worth the effort. As always the exhibitors had weathered the trials of the past months and staged a remarkable range of quality colourful alpines and snow-melt plants, but this year more of them filled 19cm rather than 30cm pans so no overall colour dominated the scene. To put gilt on the gingerbread, Jon Evans, together with help from his wife Helen, staged a wonderful display of photographs captioned ‘Alpines @ Shows’; ‘Alpines in the Garden’ and ‘Alpines in Close-up” in three separate sections, each with detailed notes on photographic techniques. A worthy winner of a Large Gold Medal, it was much admired, attracted a great deal of interest and provided another dimension to the show.
Denise Bridges received the Gwent Trophy for most first prize points in the Intermediate Section; several Cyclamen and Crocus were among her successful exhibits. I was particularly attracted to a pot of Cyclamen kuznetzovii that had been obtained from Ashwood Nurseries. Denise grows this successfully in a mix of 50% John Innes no. 2 & 50% of an equal mix of multi-purpose compost and leaf-mould. She also exhibited plants of C. coum f. albissimum and C. alpinum grown from Cyclamen Society seed and a fine pot of Crocus sieberi ‘Firefly’.
Ben & Paddy Parmee also supported the show with a number of entries in the Intermediate Section including a fine pan of Fritillaria michailovskyi, one of the few fritillarias on the bench so early in the year. This plant grows easily for them in the garden as well as in pots. They grow the show potful outside in a frame in equal parts of John Innes no. 3, peat, grit and leaf-mould and bring it into the alpine house about six weeks before it is expected to flower. (Once again, there were no contenders for the Caerleon Cup in the Novice Section.)
Show secretaries Bob & Rannveig Wallis always exhibit a large number of plants at the early shows from their extensive bulb collection and this occasion was no exception. Their three-pan of Papaveraceae in Class 8 won the only Certificate of Merit and consisted of Corydalis hyrcana, C. popovii and C. nariniana, all grown to an extremely high standard, each opf them worthy of a red sticker if entered individually.
For me their Corydalis nariniana was outstanding and a close contender for the Farrer Medal (which it went on to receive the following Saturday at Pershore). This is a high altitude, snow-melt plant growing in stony soil, producing a potato-like underground tuber that does not multiply. Bob says it is easy from seed sown as soon as ripe, which he considers is the only means of propagation. However it needs careful pollination using a second clone, after which seedlings can flower even in their second year. Keep bone dry in summer and don’t water before December.
Scilla mischtschenkoana formed part of their three-pan in the large Open Section. This is a much easier and more familiar plant to most gardeners that grows well in the garden and also makes a reliable pot plant for the show bench. It is best to choose a plant in flower - look for a good form, preferably the Van Tubergen selection. A standard bulb mix of 50/50 – John Innes no. 2 and grit sand is recommended. It is best kept in a sand plunge under cover in summer, when no watering is necessary. Several other Scillas were among their plants, of which Scilla caucasica ‘Indra’ (named for one of Henrik Zetterlund’s daughters) stood out because of its exceptional electric blue colour, this is now on my ‘wish list’.
The Wallis’s floriferous pan of Iris ‘Sindpur’ is worthy of mention – Bob assures me this is the correct spelling and he stressed care with watering: don’t start until November and then don’t stop, but administer with care. A large pan of Iris histrioides ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ was staged by David Richards – a much easier plant to grow that lasts in good condition for a couple of weeks or so.
In the three-pan from seed class, the Wallises staged two very different hybrids of Narcissus alpestris x cyclamineus parentage that created a lot of interest. These had different N. alpestris parents, one of the offspring a pleasant daffodil yellow, the other much paler and almost white. The bulbs are twin-scaled, a technique used to bulk up their best seedlings.
My last choice (but by no means least of their exhibits) won the six-pan AGS Medal in the small Open section. They staged two pots of Corydalis including a pink form of C. popovii; a fine pan of Scilla monanthus and a pan of the rarely exhibited Narcissus hedraeanthus. However, the stars of this class were a snowdrop and a Crocus. Galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis MT4027, delicate as could be wished, was awarded the Galanthus Goblet. Crocus cvijicii, which had been barely above ground just a few days beforehand, was first awarded the Mary Byng Award for the best plant in a 19cm pot, then the Farrer Medal for the best plant in the Show. This species is notorious for presenting odd flowers over several weeks, rarely producing such a glowing ‘look at me’ concerto display. Congratulations to Bob & Rannveig for timing it to perfection for all to admire.
With so many red stickers for near perfect plants you would expect Bob & Rannveig to have walked away with the Isca Prize for the most first class points in the Open Section. Not so, for this was won once again by Paul & Gill Ranson who staged and interesting selection of different dionysias, thanks mainly to Michael Kammerlander’s proliferation of D. afghanica hybrids, including an excellent D. ‘Mike Bramley’ with pastel lilac, dark-eyed flowers. They also exhibited a number of primulas and irises to narrowly win the aggregate trophy.
This year the Ione Hecker Memorial Trophy was awarded to a 19cm pot of Primula allionii ‘Daniel Burrow’ grown by Eric Jarrett in 66% grit, perlite & cat litter with 33% John Innes no. 3. The plant is kept in the alpine house all year but never heavily shaded. Eric keeps this dryish through the summer and repots every three years in August/September. When not repotted it is standard practise to remove the grit topping, sprinkle with bonemeal then replace the grit. Watering starts at Christmas, at least once a month until the end of May.
The only Asiatic Primula exhibited was a fine specimen of P. ‘Arduaine’ grown by Don Peace. The plant presented a delightful picture of rosettes of blue flowers surrounded by farinose leaves. Don uses a compost of 50% Perlite and 50% leaf-mould that should be kept light and fluffy – do not compress but just tap lightly on the bench after repotting and keep moist over winter. Asiatic Primulas hate the summer months when temperatures rise, disliking sun or heat, so keep cool and well shaded (easier to achieve in northern England than in the warmer south west).
It was a memorable and enjoyable show, with many more interesting well grown plants I would have liked to mention. Thanks are in due to the show secretaries Bob & Rannveig not only for staging so many excellent plants for us all to enjoy but also for organising the day and also to their dedicated, hard working and welcoming band of helpers from the South Wales Group. If you haven’t made the journey to Caerleon you’ve missed a treat: it is well worth putting it in your diary now for 2019.
Author: Val Lee:
Photographer: Jon Evans