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AGS East Anglia Show 2023

May 26, 2023
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The AGS East Anglia Show has not taken place since 2019, due to the years of lockdown and their after-effects.  So it was with great anticipation that Helen and I travelled up to Norwich to spend a few days with our son, and visit the show.  At the very least it would be an opportunity to catch up with some old friends.

For once, going to a show did not mean an early start and a long drive.  Helen dropped me off with all my gear and a few plants at 8.30am, at the new show hall in Morley.

Where to do the Show Photography ?

Outside the hall it was cold, with a nagging, icy breeze.  Photography outside would be problematic unless the weather warmed up.  Unfortunately, there was nowhere inside to set up a photography ‘studio’ next to a window.  In fact there were no windows at all in the hall; it was very dark (think ‘cellars’), and the only light source was green-tinged fluorescent tubes, reminiscent of those infamous ones in the old hall at Loughborough.

To make it worse, I had offered to spend the day working with Tim Shaw to give him a better understanding of the role of a show photographer.  We had to make the best of it; my LED panel was invaluable.  If these show images seem dingy, surrounded by ghostly shadows, or dominated by artificial light, that is why.  In the end,  it is like a wedding – you have to try to get decent pictures whatever the conditions.

Don’t be stupid !

The hall was full of old friends from the Norfolk and other local groups.  It was great to see the benches laid out with class markers and entry cards.  Exhibitors were rushing in and out, filling the benches with pots, including some huge ones.  Michael Sullivan stopped me and issued a health warning about carrying his large pots of Lewisia cotyledon hybrids.  I didn’t attempt it. (last photo by Doug Joyce).

Six Large Pans of Rock Plants

Chris Lilley produced a six-pan exhibit containing some magnificent plants.  These included an enormous Phlox bifida alba, which should probably have carried its own health warning, and a fabulous peony which I will come back to later.

Podophyllum hexandrum

My test plant for photos was my own plant of Podophyllum (syn. Sinopodophyllum) hexandrum.  I like it because it is a Podophyllum with upward-facing flowers.  It has taken seven years to get it from seed to flower, mainly because my snails loved the new shoots of the young seedlings; it spent several years being eaten off at ground level as soon as it appeared.

I brought it because I have never seen it on a show bench before, but stupidly put it in a class for plants grown from seed to show variation.  The judges decided it didn’t show variation and marked it NAS (not according to schedule).  The pink marks on the second flower are probably damage caused by sucking insects.

Asperula nitida

Tim Shaw and I were taking photos opposite the Novice Section classes, whilst Doug Joyce had moved a table to the other side of the hall.  Phill Webdale won the East Anglia trophy for the Novice section aggregate by winning the two-pan class 111.  His winning plants included this Asperula.

Trillium hibbersonii

In the Intermediate section, Maurice Bacon exhibited this curiously marked seedling of Trillium hibbersonii.

Silene acaulis

The Ken Aslet Trophy for the Intermediate section aggregate went to Alex O’Sullivan.  It is difficult to get Silene acaulis to flower well in cultivation.  The plant Alex showed was quite an achievement, though not quite the stunning spectacle provided by some specimens I photographed last year at 2000m in the Dolomites.

Saxifraga cinerea

Alex also showed a good plant of the seldom exhibited Saxifraga cinerea.

Drapetes (syn Kelleria) dieffenbachii

However, Alex’s great enthusiasm is to grow species which are new or rare in cultivation.  This little white-flowered sub-shrub in the Thymelaeaceae comes from New South Wales, Tasmania and New Zealand.

Eritrichium nanum subsp terglouensis

Alex also, provocatively, entered this plant under the name above.  This is not the name under which he originally received the seed (my hazy memory suggests that was Myosotis terglouensis).  But he had found out recently that it could / should be considered a subspecies of Eritrichium nanum, which certainly added a frisson of excitement for the visitors.

Viola cotyledon

You may recall that I photographed a plant of Viola cotyledon exhibited by Alex at a couple of shows earlier in the spring.  At East Anglia it once again won a Certificate of Merit.

In the spring, it appeared to have buds; sadly, now it had spent flowers, and I still have not photogaphed it in bloom.  However, fortunately Alex was kind enough to send me some images from his phone, so I can show you what the flowers looked like.

Celmisia angustifolia

Saving the best till last, Alex won the Suffolk Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate section with this fine Celmisia.

Aloe humilis

Neil Hubbard is another exhibitor who seems to favour unusual plants.  Here he showed a neat single rosette of this South African succulent.

Disa sagittalis

Neil also exhibited this South African orchid from the Drakensberg escarpment.

Matthiola montana

In one of the seed classes, Neil exhibited this little stock from Turkey, which received a Botanical Certificate from the Joint Rock Garden Committee.  It was impossible to capture the colour properly in the show hall.

Calochortus amabilis

One final plant from Neil, and my favourite.  This is a Californian bulbous species, grown from seed sown in 2011.

Oxytropis lambertii x sericea

In the adjacent class for new or rare plants, David Charlton entered a lovely Oxytropis from Colorado.  This plant received a Preliminary Commendation from JRGC.  Despite the unusual lighting, the second picture does perhaps give the best rendition of the colour.

I intended to take a photo of the very striking ‘long tom’ pot the plant was in, which is necessary to accommodate its taproot, but forgot in the confusion of the show; David very kindly took the third picture and sent it to me to repair this omission.

Trillium simile

The Sudbury Prize for the best pan of bulbs went to Martin Rogerson for this plant of Trillium simile.  I took several different versions of the close-up, experimenting with moving the LED light around.

Iris cristata

Ian Instone brought this pan of Iris cristata down from Leeds.  It hails from the woodlands of the eastern USA.  Surprisingly, it is the first time I have ever photographed it at a show; we usually see the slightly smaller Iris lacustris, often the cultivar named ‘Captain Collingwood’.

Primula sieboldii

Ian also brought a fine pan of Primula sieboldii.  In case you can’t see clearly in the photo, in this plant the front of the petals was white, whilst the back of the petals was lilac.

Ranunculus parnassifolius

The alpine buttercups always have a special quality to them.  So here is another of Ian Instone’s plants, photographed particularly for Cliff Booker, who so loves them.

Asarum maximum

Ian Instone received a Certificate of Merit for this fine Asarum.  They always remind me of Cecilia Coller, who grew them so well, and exhibited them at the London show when I used to run it.  This was a real challenge to photograph in the dim lighting.

Saxifraga pubescens ‘Snowcap’

This was the last of Ian’s plants which I photographed.  Despite the magnificent specimens grown by Ian, Mark Childerhouse and others, I will always associate this with Alan and Janet Cook, who grew it so well, and won three Farrer Medals with it at this very show not many years ago.

Saxifraga cinerea

Speaking of Mark Childerhouse, he had a plant of Saxifraga cinerea in the Open Section with slightly more flower than Alex O’Sullivan’s plant in the Intermediate section.

Saxifraga spruneri

Mark also showed a neat pan of Saxifraga spruneri.

Dodecatheon meadia alba

Since he reached his Gold Medal at the Early Spring Show, Steve Clements can only exhibit in the Open section, and he brought a wide variety of plants to do so.  One of my favourites was this white Dodecatheon.

Pleione ‘Berapi Purple Sandpiper’

Steve also exhibited a lovely large pan of Pleione ‘Berapi Purple Sandpiper’.  Unfortunately the camera couldn’t cope with the colour of these at all well in the lighting conditions we had.

Pleione ‘Shasta’

This pan of Pleione ‘Shasta’ from Don Peace was much smaller, but very elegant.

Cystopteris fragilis

We had time to photograph a few ferns.  Having seen this one in the Dolomites, I was keen to capture it in a show pot, exhibited by Steve Clements.

Woodsia obtusa

This Woodsia obtusa is a familiar friend, which always looks great as the new fronds lengthen, exhibited as always by Don Peace.

Woodsia polystichoides ‘Russian form’

However, this time it was a different Woodsia which caught the judges’ attention.  Don Peace won the Barbara Tingey trophy for the best fern, and received a Preliminary Commendation and a Cultural Commendation from the JRGC.

Androsace cylindrica x hirtella

The Ione Hecker Memorial Trophy for the best pan of Primulaceae also went to Don Peace, for this fine Androsace.

Cypripedium parviflorum var parviflorum

Finally, Don’s Cypripedium parviflorum, familiar to show visitors in May for the last few years, received a Certificate of Merit and was probably the runner-up for best plant in the show.

Cypripedium parviflorum var pubescens

However, the Norfolk Trophy for the Open section aggregate went not to Don, but to Diane Clement.  Her plants included this nice fresh Cypripedium.

Allium akaka ex Guzelbere Pass

This onion from Iran was a wonderful colour. [Oops – there was a mix-up with the show labels.  When I photographed it this had a label saying it was exhibited by Diane Clement, but she says that’s wrong.  Unfortunately my photo doesn’t show the class number, but I think it might have been class 56, in which case this was exhibited by Maurice Bacon].

Allium shelkovnikovii

Diane Clement’s pot of Allium shelkovnikovii was a much smaller and paler selection than the vigorous lilac flower heads we normally see.

Arisaema ovale

Diane also showed an Arisaema with an unfamiliar name, which looked remarkably similar to A. amurense.  I believe that A. ovale is supposed to have smooth leaf edges, rather than serrated / jagged ones.  However, I have certainly seen and photographed plants labelled A. amurense with smooth-edged leaves, so I suspect the two may be mixed up in cultivation.

Rhododendron benhallii

Diane received a Certificate of Merit for this Rhododendron, formerly and more familiarly known as Menziesia ciliicalyx.

Rhododendron ‘Arctic Tern’

There were two good plants of Rhododendron ‘Arctic Tern’ in the same class.  Michael Sullivan’s plant just came out on top, I think because it was further out.

Ledum groenlandicum ‘Helma’

I think my personal favourite Rhododendron was this little one, exhibited under its former name Ledum by Chris Lilley.

Hormathophylla spinosa

Alyssum spinosum is a very familiar plant, but it has a new name.  This specimen made another tidy exhibit for Chris Lilley.

Paeonia wendelboi

At the top of this report I showed you Chris Lilley’s large six-pan exhibit, featuring a large pan of a short yellow peony.  That was Paeonia wendelboi, which is still scarce, both in the wild and in cultivation.  This specimen was raised originally by Jim Archibald, and given to Chris by Jenny Archibald after Jim’s death.  Of course, it won the Farrer medal for the best plant in the show.  And the JRGC gave it an Award of Merit and a Cultural Commendation.


That’s all the photos I managed to take.  I would like to thank new show secretary Peter Lyle and his team of helpers for finding a way of staging a show I love to visit, and in particular the ladies who provided a ready supply of tea.  Thanks also to judges, exhibitors, and the nursery men and women who brought plants for us to buy.  Whilst two of the nurseries had been squeezed inside the show hall, others, including the AGS members stall, were outside on a bitterly cold day.

Not the Car again

Finally, I would like to help everyone who helped me personally.  My wife Helen dropped me off first thing in the morning, intending to spend the day on an outing with our son Robin.  However, our car decided to play up again, and they had to limp back to Robin’s house.  Many of you will know I don’t have a smart-phone.  So in the middle of the morning I received a phone call on someone else’s phone saying that she had broken down, and a rather chaotic sequence of calls followed on several different phones as we struggled with network coverage at both ends of the call.  So thanks to everyone whose phone came to the rescue, and in particular to Anne and Steve Vale who gave me a lift back to Norwich after the show.

Fortunately, the following day the car seemed prepared to behave, and we made a long and cautious return journey, deliberately avoiding all motorways.  We very much did not want to have the car decide to stop again on a road with a live hard shoulder; instead we took a scenic route which included some lovely country roads, but also a long succession of town centres.

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