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AGS Early Spring Show 2023

March 8, 2023
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As we move through the show season, the plants on display change slowly. The Galanthus and Hepatica which thronged the first show at Newport were less in evidence at the Early Spring Show at Theydon Bois.  As the shows move around the country, the faces change; some exhibitors go to nearly every show, but many only attend venues which are relatively close to them.

The Merry-Go-Round

At Theydon Bois, the main spring exhibitors were all present (Paul and Gill Ranson, Bob and Rannveig Wallis, Don Peace, Ian Robertson, John Dixon and Diane Clement) but the supporting cast had changed.  There were still plenty of good plants on the benches, but there was no Eric Jarrett or Bob Worsley, no George Elder or Martin Rogerson (a week off).

New Faces

Instead, we saw some other familiar faces for the first time this year, resuming their roles as exhibitors and judges: Alan Newton, Tony Hall, Martin Sheader, Kit Grey-Wilson, Nigel Fuller and Mike Chadwick, Mary Randall, Joy Bishop, David Haselgrove and Dick Bathe, and many others.

Not to mention all the members of the local groups who were there to help the show run smoothly, helping in the tea room, on the members’ plant stall, stewarding etc.  Thanks to all of them, and in particular to new show secretaries Anne and Steve Vale for delivering such an enjoyable show.


I was particularly glad to see my friends Doug and Lynne Joyce; Doug was helping me with the photography, and spent a long time capturing images of the show, both during judging, and when it was open to the public.  Many of the other new faces are visible if you look carefully in Doug’s images of the judging.

Perhaps because Doug took responsibility for this part of the job, I had a more relaxed, and much more enjoyable day than at the previous shows.  I suspect this may also have been because my ‘studio’ was in the main hall, and my friends all came to talk to me as I worked.

Plant stands

Of course, during judging, only judges and stewards (and photographers) are allowed in the show hall.  Everyone else is in the tea room, or busy shopping.  Here are the main plant stands – again Doug’s pictures.  I hope all did plenty of trade:

  • AGS Members stand
  • Riverside bulbs
  • Edrom Nursery
  • Pottertons Nursery
  • Hartside Nursery
  • Aberconwy Nursery

Show views

All too soon, the judging was finished, the doors were open, and visitors were allowed into the show hall.

Six Pan Classes

Doug Joyce also helped by photographing the six pan entries for me in situ (though I also took some of them later on in the day). So here are:

Six Large Pans of Rock Plants

Ian Robertson won the AGS medal with four Cyclamen, a daffodil and a fritillary.  The two Cyclamen on the left won individual awards – we will see those later.

Six Small Pans of Rock Plants

There were two entries – from Ian Robertson, and then from Bob and Rannveig Wallis, who won the AGS Medal.  Again, we will see some of the individual plants later.

Six Small Pans of Rock Plants

In this class, Bob and Rannveig Wallis’ entry only received a second place.  This was a little surprising – there were lots of interesting plants in it – I can only conclude that the white Muscari at the front which isn’t properly out let the entry down.

Gagea peduncularis

By now, you all know that I try to start by photographing flowers I fear might deteriorate in the heat of the show hall.  My test plant on Saturday (to check the camera settings) was this lovely Gagea from Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Crocus species

Then it was on to the Crocus.  First this unnamed selection from Ian Robertson.

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’

Peter Hurren always exhibits fine pans of this at the Early Spring show – this year he continued the tradition.

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’

Diane Clement exhibited this selection from C. tommasinianus – it has a purple streaking in the petals which isn’t evident in the previous cultivar.

Crocus vernus subsp albiflorus

Last week I showed John Dixon’s lilac form of this subspecies.  This pan, exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis, contained a particularly tiny white form with purple midlines.

Crocus pelistericus f. albus

But the pick of the Crocus at the show was undoubtedly this fabulous white form of Crocus pelistericus.  Ian Robertson exhibited this last year, but this year it looked even better.

Erythronium grandiflorum var pallidum

Another plant I photographed last year; this year three or four of the bulbs have flowers, instead of just one.  This is difficult to grow in a pot or in the garden, but Diane Clement seems to have found a way.

Fritillaria three-pan class

In the small pan class for three pans of Fritillaria, Bob and Rannveig Wallis entered three species from the Rhinopetalum group:

  • Fritillaria ariana
  • Fritillaria gibbosa
  • A tiny selection of Fritillaria stenanthera (or perhaps these are seedlings at their first flowering)

Fritillaria rhodocanakis

Ian Robertson included Fritillaria rhodocanakis in his small six-pan exhibit.

Fritillaria ‘Lentune Fox’

Finally, Don Peace raised and exhibited this complex Fritillaria hybrid.  This is F. pinardii, crossed with a previous hybrid between F. aurea and F. pinardii.

Iris chrysopetala

Bob and Rannveig Wallis exhibited this as Iris bucharica, raised from seed sown in 2015.  However, Tony Hall was quick to point out that the plant exhibited belonged to a new species described in 2022 to resolve taxonomic confusion.

The abstract of the publication says:

“The golden-flowered plants differ from the type of I. bucharica (which is prominently bicoloured with yellow falls and white claws and standards) also in the habit and the shape and size of their outer and inner tepals.  The new species occurs in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; its occurrence in the neighbouring Turkmenistan is likely.”

The JRGC considered this specimen, and awarded it a Preliminary Commendation under the new name.

Iris reticulata ‘White Caucasus’

Bob and Rannveig also exhibited this neat pan of the cultivar which goes around as Iris reticulata ‘White Caucasus’.

Narcissus asturiensis var lagoi

The snowdrops may be nearly finished, but as the season inched forward, the exhibitors brought many new species and cultivars of Narcissus.  Bob and Rannveig Wallis exhibited this little pan.  I’m not sure of the status of the varietal name.  In fact, in the latest plant lists, Narcissus asturiensis as a whole is listed as a synonym for Narcissus cuneifolius.

Narcissus dubius

Bob and Rannveig also brought this more unusual species from south east Spain.  I usually think of Narcissus dubius as creamy white, but the buds opening here are primrose yellow, fading to white.  This exhibit posed serious problems to photograph; the three scapes all faced inwards towards each other.  I needed to make some very delicate adjustments to separate one for a close-up.

Narcissus atlanticus

I was delighted to see Bob and Rannveig exhibit this species from the High Atlas in Morocco.  It is very rare and local in the wild, and has always been scarce and quite tricky to grow in cultivation.

Although it has been in cultivation since 1936, when E. K. Balls brought back seed, for a long time it could not be rediscovered in the wild.  I remember reading an account of its rediscovery within the last 30 years or so, but cannot remember the details.  For some reason, Google is stubbornly refusing to help.

[ Update: A more Delphic consultation has yielded the information that it was rediscovered in 1994 by Mike Salmon and Chris Lovell in a limestone gully south of Tizi Gourane at 1,800m.  Looking at the SRGC website, we can find that Jim Archibald offered seed at least twice on the JJA lists, though from the old E.K. Balls stock ]

Narcissus atlanticus x. assoanus

For the last couple of years, Bob and Rannveig have been exhibiting a hybrid raised from seed from N. atlanticus.  The putative pollen parent is N. assoanus.

Narcissus moschatus ‘Nadder Moon’

Although I photographed it at Pershore, the kind gentlemen of the JRGC asked me to take more pictures of Ian Robertson’s Narcissus moschatus ‘Nadder Moon’, apparently to try to settle some debate about its exact colour.  Colour is always a subjective thing, particularly under artificial light, and particularly through a camera and digital processing, so I cannot see that my contribution will be useful.

Narcissus bulbocodium citrinus

The two most spectacular pans of daffodils were both in the Intermediate section, exhibited by Steve Clements.  My personal favourite was this fine pan of Narcissus bulbocodium citrinus.

Narcissus ‘Snow Baby’

However, the judges awarded the Geoff Smith Salver for the best pan of bulbs in the Intermediate or Novice Section to Steve Clements for this Narcissus hybrid instead.

Hyacinthella hispida

The JRGC awarded another Preliminary Commendation to this curious Hyacinthella exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis.  I loved the hairy leaves, and made great efforts to capture them in my images.

Chionodoxa lochiae

Two different exhibitors staged pans of this Chionodoxa (now Scilla ?), Ian Robertson and Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Chionodoxa sardensis

For comparison, here is Chionodoxa (now Scilla ?) sardensis, also exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Pleione ‘Glacier Peak’ x. humilis

I spent some time last week, failing to get a good angle on this Pleione from John Dixon.  Writing the report, I remembered that this is the angle that works best for Pleione which are determined to hang their heads.

Pleione Hekla ‘Locking Stumps’

Don Peace staged a fine, fresh pan of this Pleione.

Cymbidium tortisepalum

Steve Clements brought this Cymbidium.  I have photographed it before, but not heavily flowered like this.  Steve won his Gold Medal at the show (life time aggregate of 10 firsts in Novice, 15 in Intermediate, and 25 in Open) – I am pretty sure this is the plant which helped him over the line.

Pterostylis curta x. coccina

Steve also exhibited this Pterostylis hybrid.  This has green flowers tipped with brown, without the stripes and prominent tails (?) which for me make the flowers of P. coccina attractive.

Corydalis aitchisonii

I intended to photograph Bob and Rannveig’s plant of Corydalis aitchisonii last week.  This week it was no longer as compact and refined, but I did at least get a picture or two.

Corydalis verticillaris

On the other hand, this pan of Corydalis verticillaris was nice and compact.  I particularly liked the yellow flush to the flowers, which seemed stronger than normal, perhaps because the flowers were so fresh.

Callianthemum anemonoides

Don Peace exhibited a very fine, small plant of Callianthemum anemonoides, with its delicately veined, very pale pink flowers.

Flower Arrangement

When I photographed Anne Vale’s flower arrangement at Newport, flowers dropped out while I carried it.  This time, the arrangement was a little robust, and came with a list of component flowers, including the yellow Primula ‘Rosebud’ – the ‘rosebuds’ that caused debate at Newport.

Rebutia heliosa

The JRGC awarded a Preliminary Commendation to Anne Vale’s Rebutia / Aylostera heliosa.

Viola cotyledon

In the Intermediate section, Alex O’Sullivan exhibited two rare and difficult species from Chile.  The first was the rosulate Viola cotyledon.  I’m not sure, but I think those might be flower-buds.  If so, I hope the plant and I might coincide at a show, so I can photograph it in flower.

Oreopolis glacialis

Alex’s second plant from Chile was the primrose yellow, mat-forming Oreopolis glacialis – equally rare and difficult to grow in cultivation.

Hepatica japonica ‘Wakakusa’

Many of the Hepatica on the bench looked a little tired to me.  The pick of them, for me at least, was this little double pink one from Robin Alabaster.

Ypsilandra thibetica

Diane Clement’s big Ypsilandra thibetica was spectacular this year, and filled the centre of the hall with scent.  It received a Certificate of Merit from the show judges, and a First Class Certificate and Cultural Commendation from JRGC.

Cyclamen coum

Ian Robertson’s Cyclamen coum, which received a Certificate of Merit last week, won the Cyclamen Society Salver for the best Cyclamen.

Cyclamen pseudibericum forma roseum

From the same six-pan exhibit, Ian’s Cyclamen pseudibericum forma roseum received a Certificate of Merit.

Cyclamen pseudibericum

For comparison, here is Cyclamen pseudibericum in its normal coloration, also from Ian Robertson.

Primula allionii ‘Lepus’

I thought the best Primula exhibited was this fine specimen of the desperately slow Primula allionii ‘Lepus’, exhibited by Don Peace.

[Update: John Dixon writes to tell me that this is a hybrid he raised in the mid 1980s, (1985?) – P. allionii ‘Crowsley’ x P. ’Joan Hughes’.  As an aside there were about a dozen seedlings and ‘Lepus’ is the sole survivor. In terms of growth, it’s definitely more tortoise than hare !]

Primula ‘Beatrice Wooster’

The sole entry in the Novice section came from new exhibitor, Sally Adams.  It was only awarded a second, but I thought it was rather sweet, and strangely, it is an old hybrid I have never actually photgraphed.

Dionysia hybrid ex ‘Ina’

I was surprised at Pershore by how few big Dionysia specimens there were on the bench.  Another week, and the situation is changing, though I still tended to focus on small specimens of cultivars I had never photographed before.  Alex O’Sullivan exhibited this little hybrid – it should be spectacular next week, if he can get it to a show.

Dionysia hybrid JLMS02-07/JM1

John Dixon exhibited this hybrid between D. khatamii and possibly D. janthina.  Very pretty, but then they all are.

[John Dixon says that it was collected as D. khatamii by the JLMS trip (Jäger/Löbke/Mayr/Stopp 2002) but is apparently far tighter than what’s regarded as normal for the species. Since the only other species nearby was D. janthina that got the blame, but until someone takes it to the lab it’s difficult to be absolutely certain. ]

Dionysia ‘Florenze’ JM-MK97120/37

Many of the interesting hybrids came from Paul and Gill Ranson.

This one is an f2 hybrid ex Andreas.

Dionysia ‘Hyperion’ PMR08R1980/1

Dionysia ‘Hyperion’ is an f3 hybrid (which for me means that it could have almost anything in its ancestry), which Paul and Gill first showed at the Kent show as long ago as 2015.  It was nearly as big as this then, which suggests it may be difficult to grow to any size.

Dionysia hybrid PMR-DZ1924H/1 and PMR-DZ1924H/3

Next, two little new hybrids from the same seed pod (f2 hybrid ex D. michauxii hybrid), both raised and exhibited by Paul and Gill.

Dionysia hybrid MK9109/4

Paul and Gill had two very good large three-pan exhibits of Dionysia.  The first contained the Dionysia ‘Ewesley Legacy’ from last week, but I photographed this hybrid between D. curviflora and D. tapetodes.

Dionysia ‘Yellowstone’ HK-MK9953/7

In Paul and Gill’s second three-pan, I photographed this D. odora x tapetodes hybrid, named ‘Yellowstone’.

Dionysia lamingtonii 1823-1

As well as the hybrids, there were some nice cultivars of Dionysia species on the bench.  Nigel Fuller exhibited a new seedling of D. lamingtonii.

Dionysia viscidula GW/H1305

John Dixon exhibited this pan of Dionysia viscidula.

Dionysia zagrica CIA213(TBG3)

Paul and Gill Ranson received a Certificate of Merit, and a Preliminary Commendation and Cultural Commendation from JRGC, for this well-flowered plant of Dionysia zagrica.

Dionysia bryoides DZ I 00-31/5

However, my favourite Dionysia was this new clone of Dionysia bryoides from Paul and Gill Ranson.  In fact, my favourite plant in the show.  It is not often I get Dionysia lust, and I know for sure I couldn’t possibly grow it, but I have never seen a colour like this in a Dionysia.  The photos are pretty accurate.  Absolutely wonderful.

Dionysia tapetodes JRD 95/1/1

Finally, my thanks to the judges.  They quite rightly gave the Farrer Medal to the heaviest plant in the show.  John Dixon exhibited a magnificent large dome of Dionysia tapetodes.  Somehow, I failed to drop it between the show bench and the window for photograph.  Congratulations to John, but I am glad I didn’t have to take it home.

Congratulations also to Anne and Steve and all their helpers for staging a wonderful show which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Good food, great exhibits, and lots of plants to take home.

Image of Jon Evans Jon Evans

Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and is progressing slowly towards his Gold Medal at shows, at the rate of roughly one first per year.

However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He still visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors, and is actively involved in other plant photography, both in gardens both public and private, and on outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.

If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at