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AGS Early Spring Show 2024

March 12, 2024
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This year the AGS Early Spring Show moved to a new venue at Chelmsford City Racecourse near Braintree.  We set off around lunchtime on the Friday, having promised to put up my display of photos of flowers from the Dolomites.  Despite the trials of traffic, wintry weather and navigation, we arrived slightly early, and ready to spring into action.

It was a dark and stormy night…  well, it wasn’t, but it wasn’t exactly warm either; the temperature was about 4 degrees, and there was a wintery hint in the frequent blustery showers. Outside the marquee was an outdoor seating area, suggesting good times to be had at other times of year.

Busy, busy, busy

Streams of people were rushing in and out of the marquee, setting up a huge variety of nursery stands and stalls selling all manner of goods.  As a consequence, the doors were wide open, the wind rushed around the tent, and the temperature was… about 4 degrees.  Putting up the display boards and covering them with my photos was a truly alpine experience.

Never mind, heating was promised for the morning, and we were able to retire at 7pm to the warm hospitality of our old friends Doug and Lynne Joyce.

Ready for the public

Come the morning, the marquee was filled with a bewildering display of plants, cakes, honey, craft items and information stands.  Doug Joyce had kindly offered to help me with the photography by documenting the event as a whole while I focused on the show plants.  The images above, and most of those of sales stands, show views and views of the two displays are his.


Here are some of the nursery stands, courtesy of Doug:

  • Copton Ash Garden
  • Edroms Nursery
  • Hoyland Plant Centre
  • Lockyers Nursery
  • Plantbase Nursery
  • Pottertons Nursery

Other nurseries Doug didn’t photograph included Alex O’Sullivan, Aberconwy Nursery, Eleplants Nursery, Hartside Nursery, Jacques Amand International, Moore & Moore Plants, Riverside Bulbs, Straight Mile Nursery gardens, Monksilver Nursery, and of course the AGS Plant stall.

Information Stalls and Craft Stands

Here are some of the information and craft stands, again courtesy of Doug:

  • BCSS Southend-on-Sea Group
  • Four Seasons Hampers & Bakes (cakes)
  • Essex Hardy Plant Society
  • Hebe Society
  • The Hardy Orchid Society
  • Essex Beekeepers Association, with Maurice Bacon selling honey and bees wax
  • Zeetoona (Olive wood Products)

Other stalls Doug didn’t photograph included Beautifully Handmade Touches (vases, ceramic ducks etc), Teddy Locks (Feel Good Sole) (socks made from Recycled bottles), the Fritillaria Group, Rudi’s Homemade Chilli Jams & Chutneys, The Leaf Man Forge, Writtle Horticultural College, Candlewise (candles etc).

Before long, this end of the marquee bustled with people, despite the morning chill, and this raised spirits (and the temperature a little).

Flowers of the Dolomites in late June

My display of photos from the Dolomites formed a separator between the sales tables and the show proper.

Black and White Landscapes

Because we could use the backs of the boards, as well as the fronts, we had a lot more space, and I could include a panel of black and white landscapes taken in the Dolomites, which were much admired.

Show Benches

On the far side of my display you came to the benches containing the show classes.  Doug and I both took views of this during judging, and as the first members of the public entered.

After judging, and stewarding (recording the decisions made by the judges), the results need to be entered on the show computer.

Miniature Gardens with Accessories

Near my photographic display was a TV screen featuring an image I took at the Midland show last year – one of Anne Vale’s miniature gardens, featuring a drunken gnome being told off by a fairy.  This proved an effective advert for Anne’s display of Miniature Gardens with Accessories, which received a Gold Award.  Fortunately, Doug Joyce managed to get some pictures of some of these gardens; every time I tried, it was busy with fascinated visitors.  The last image is of Anne’s latest creation, out on the show bench.

AGS Sewell Medal

Ian Robertson staged a fine exhibit of six large pans of alpine plants to win the AGS Sewell Medal.

These plants are:

  • Back row: Narcissus ‘Nadder Moon’, Cypripedium formosanum, Tulipa cretica
  • Front: Cyclamen libanoticum, Cyclamen pseudibericum, Cyclamen pseudibericum f. roseum.

Cypripedium formosanum

The Cypripedium was a fabulous plant, which would have deserved the Farrer medal (for the best plant in the show) if it had been in perfect condition.  Sadly, it must have opened unevenly; some flowers had brown tips to the petals and were looking tired.

Narcissus ‘Nadder Moon’

Ian’s pan of Narcissus ‘Nadder Moon’ looked great – it seemed to have matured a little since the previous weekend in South Wales – and the judges awarded it a Certificate of Merit.

Cyclamen libanoticum

The last plant I photographed from Ian Robertson’s six-pan exhibit was this pot of Cyclamen libanoticum.  I think this is my favourite spring Cyclamen, with its squat, dumpy flowers in a glorious shade of pink, and the little splash of blackcurrant on their noses.

Six small pans of Rock Plants

The AGS Medal for the small six-pan class went to Don Peace with this colourful selection.

Iris winogradowii

I photographed Don’s pan of Iris winogradowii early on in the show; in warm show halls the petals have a tendency to shrivel up.

Primula allionii BB03/5/13

Don’s six-pan entry contained two excellent specimens of Primula allionii.  The first was this lovely seedling raised by Brian Burrow.

Primula ‘Lepus’

For me, the best plant in Don Peace’s six-pan was this neat Primula hybrid; it is desperately slow, so quite an achievement to get it to this size.

Six pans of Rock Plants raised from Seed

The Jane Baldry Trophy, for six pans of rock plants raised from seed, went to Bob and Rannveig Wallis, for a selection including two Fritillaria, two Narcissus, a Corydalis and a Hyacinthella.

Narcissus bulbocodium subsp tenuifolius ex SB185

The outstanding plant in Bob and Rannveig’s six-pan was this little primrose-yellow form of Narcissus bulbocodium, later awarded a Preliminary Commendation from the RHS Alpine and Rock Garden Committee (formerly the JRGC), subject to being given a clonal name.

Asarum forbesii

The first individual plant I photographed, while judging continued, was this little Asarum in the non-competitive display exhibited by Bob Worsley.  Probably one to file as interesting rather than pretty.

Hepatica yamatutai

The Essex Award for the Novice Section Aggregate went to Christine Jarvis.  Her plants included this very pretty form of Hepatica yamatutai, with magenta backs to the petals.

Hepatica japonica ‘Isari-Bi’

Christine Jarvis also showed a plant of the more familiar Hepatica japonica ‘Isari-Bi’.

Dionysia ‘Selene’

In the Intermediate section, Maurice Bacon showed a good plant of the Dionysia hybrid ‘Selene’, which is becoming familiar at shows.

Dionysia ‘Adora’

Maurice also showed a little Dionysia under this name.  A judges’ note corrected this to the species D. odora, but I remember that Tony Stanley used to exhibit a hybrid Dionysia (D. odora x. tapetodes) with the name ‘Adora’, and looking at past photos, I am inclined to believe that this is indeed that.  Paul Ranson says that the species D. odora has paler yellow flowers, and a greyish tone to the leaves, though it is not easy to be sure of colour tone in artificial lighting conditions.

Please could someone from the Essex Group pass this discussion on to Maurice; I know he won’t read it here.

Callianthemum anemonoides

Still in the Intermediate section, Alex O’Sullivan exhibited two plants of Callianthemum anemonoides. These looked perhaps a little tired, but still a significant achievement.

Calceolaria lanigera

Alex also exhibited this striking, woolly leaved Calceolaria.

Saxifraga alpigena

My final plant from Alex O’Sullivan is this high alpine Saxifraga from Nepal.  In cultivation it tends to elongate beyond the wonderfully tight cushions seen in the wild, but I have never photographed the species before, so I was very glad to see it.  Alex’s plants won him the Epping Trophy for the Intermediate section aggregate.

Pleione formosana x grandiflora

Still in the Intermediate section, Peter Hurren exhibited this pretty Pleione hybrid – another thing to photograph early, before it might deteriorate in the heat (?!) of the show hall.

Narcissus ‘Oxford Gold’

The Geoff Smith Salver for the best pan of bulbs in the Novice and Intermediate sections went to Peter Hurren for this N. bulbocodium cultivar.

Erythronium citrinum

Another genus I always photograph early, in case they deteriorate in the show hall, is Erythronium.  Though there didn’t seem to be much prospect of it warming up enough to trouble them here.  This pretty pan of the North American Erythronium citrinum came from Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Erythronium dens-canis

Diane Clement showed an attractive pan of the European Erythronium dens-canis.  This always seems to perform much better in the open garden than in pots.

Pleione ‘Hekla Locking Stumps’

Another Pleione came from Don Peace.  When I saw it before judging, it was covered with water droplets; it is hard to tell whether these came from the rain which was falling intermittently heavily outside, or from the spray which Don always uses to ‘freshen up’ his orchids before a show.

Fritillaria ariana x bucharica

The Lingen Trophy for the best plant in a 19cm pot went to Bob Worsley for this Fritillaria hybrid.  The RARGC awarded this a Preliminary Commendation, and a Cultural Commendation for Bob.

Fritillaria bucharica

Bob Worsley also exhibited a striking pan of one of the parents of the hybrid.  Sadly, the final flower spike wasn’t yet open.

Callianthemum anemonoides

By this point, visitors filled the show hall, and I tried to confine my operations to the benches near the photography table.  Don Peace had exhibited a fine pan of Callianthemum anemonoides, though he was at pains to point out that it had been even better in previous years.

Pleione ‘Riah Shan’

Right next to me, the battle of Pleione ‘Riah Shan’ was resumed.  Again, first place went to Don Peace (left) with Steve Clements (right) second.  Personally, I thought Steve was unlucky.  Steve also had a second, smaller pan elsewhere in the show, which was successful.

Ophrys tenthredinifera var villosa

The judges awarded a Certificate of Merit to Steve Clements for this fine pan of Ophrys tenthredinifera var villosa.  He also exhibited quite a number of other Ophrys species, which I intended to photograph later, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

Corydalis sewerzowii

One of the plants on the bench near me was this, the best plant in the show, winning a Farrer Medal for Peter Hood.  I didn’t take a picture of Peter with his plant – others were queuing up to do that, so here are images by Don Peace and then Doug Joyce.  At least Doug let him sit down – Don had him crouched over the plant at a most unnatural and probably uncomfortable angle, though you can’t tell that from the picture.  The Farrer comes at a price.

Dionysia aretioides

Mike Chadwick exhibited a nice dome of Dionysia aretioides, which evoked memories for me of Nigel Fuller’s huge specimen some 20 years ago, and more recently Frank Hoyle’s Farrer-winning plant.  Fortunately this one was a little smaller, and more portable.

Dionysia bryoides PMR-DZ1907/4

Now for Paul and Gill Ranson’s battalions of Dionysia.  Paul was on his own at the show and looked rather lost; Gill was babysitting their grandchildren.  Fortunately Alan Newton came to the rescue and helped Paul marshall his plants, get them on the bench, and then round them up and back in the car.  A huge effort, which brought Paul and Gill the Elliott Bowl for the Open section aggregate;  we need to credit Alan with an ’assist’.

I was interested in this D. bryoides seedling, which seemed very pale, but Paul assures me it is the straight species, which is variable, and not a hybrid.

Dionysia ‘Hale Bopp’

This little Michael Kammerlander hybrid exhibited by Paul and Gill received a Preliminary Commendation from RARGC, and Paul received a Cultural Commendation.

Dionysia microphylla GW/H1302

Moving on to slightly bigger plants (they all look the same size in the pictures), I am always glad to get a chance to photograph D. microphylla.  I think Paul grows it just for me; I love the way the flowers are raised above the cushion on short stems.

Dionysia tapetodes PMR10R1314/16

This D. tapetodes cultivar was raised from seed by Paul and Gill.

Dionysia freitagii EGW91/6

A near perfect specimen of D. freitagii, again from Paul and Gill.  This species always flowers a little later than some of the early ones; an indication that the season is progressing fast.

Dionysia tapetodes ENF 92/1

This larger D. tapetodes, scion of a cultivar raised from seed by Nigel Fuller, earned Paul and Gill a Certificate of Merit.

Dionysia ‘Lycaena’

The best of Paul and Gill’s plants was, perhaps, this lovely hybrid, which received another Certificate of Merit, and a Cultural Commendation from RARGC.

Saxifraga burseriana ‘Major’

There were very few large pans of saxifrage at the show.  To my eye, the best was this one from Mark Childerhouse.

Saxifraga ‘Lyda’

It was a great pleasure to meet David Hoare at the show, and even more to see him exhibiting plants – it is a long time since I last saw him.  David brought some Porophyllum saxifrages in smaller pots, first the lovely magenta hybrid ‘Lyda’.

Saxifraga ‘Sherlock Holmes’

For contrast, here is a fine plant of a yellow saxifrage hybrid, also from David Hoare.

Saxifraga x cinerea TJR 615/1

And a white one, this time from Mark Childerhouse.

Hepatica japonica ‘Koshi-no-Mabaroshi’

This little Hepatica from Bob Worsley was very attractive in close up.

Hepatica japonica

Another Hepatica japonica from Bob Worsley, not very different from ‘Isari-Bi’, but the colour was a bit brighter and a bit redder.

Paeonia mascula subsp russoi

I loved this peony from Alan Blackman. The cultivar name ‘Reverchonii’ seems to be used for this colour form, with red stems and red-backed leaves, though this specimen was seed-raised.

Ranunculus crithmifolius

Don Peace exhibited this tricky New Zealand buttercup in the seed-raised classes.

Mammillaria hahniana

This large pan of Mammillaria from Anne Vale seemed to have a halo, as the fine spikes were backlit with light from the windows.

Benthamiella patagonica F&W9345

When this was first introduced, it made regular appearances on the show bench, but we see it far less frequently now.  This large cushion earned a Certificate of Merit for Mark Childerhouse.

Narcissus ‘Cartledge’

I have loved this little Narcissus bulbocodium hybrid from Bob and Rannveig Wallis since I first photographed it at the South West show as N. triandrus x. bulbocodium, where it received a Preliminary Commendation.

Fritillaria ‘Lentune Fox’

This fine hybrid Fritillaria was raised and exhibited by Don Peace.

Fritillaria kurdica

Bob and Rannveig Wallis exhibited this plant under an unexpected name.  I assume this is the plant which used to be grown as F. crassifolia subsp. kurdica, raised to specific level.

Iris chrysopetala

A lovely yellow iris from Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Tulipa regelii

I waited all day for the flowers on this tulip, exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis, to get warm enough to open… and they did (just).

I had several more plants I wanted to photograph, but at about 2.30pm my legs suddenly decided they had done enough marching up and down, and my race was run for the day.  So I stopped taking photos quite a while before the end of the show – a rare event. I was spent.

After sitting down chatting for most of an hour, I was able to summon up enough energy to take down the photographic display with Helen.  But by the time we had got it all put away in boxes, and the display boards back in their bags, it was almost beyond us to carry everything the length of the marquee to get it in the car.

This was a new show venue, and there were a few issues with the show which will need sorting out for next year.  But there were a huge number of visitors, and the show was a great success despite the cold.  We should congratulate show secretaries Anne and Steve Vale, all their helpers from the local groups, and to the race-course and its staff for a magnificent event.  Thanks also to those who gave lectures, judged, stewarded and exhibited.  I hope to see you all again next year; let’s hope the gods are kinder with the weather.

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 has recently won his Gold Medal at AGS shows after about twenty years.

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