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AGS South West Show 2023

March 31, 2023
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We always love the trip to Rosemoor for the AGS South West show.  It usually takes place in late March, by which time spring has firmly sprung.  We usually take the rollercoaster route, over the hills from South Molton, through Umberleigh to Great Torrington.  The banks are foaming with huge clumps of primroses, and clusters of wild daffodils; in the fields lambs are gambolling everywhere.

This year, the flowers were not as advanced as sometimes, but even so it was almost a disappointment to arrive, and have to leave the spring glory outside.

The show hall

However, there were plenty of plants to marvel at inside the show hall.  Some commented that the benches seemed a little sparse; certainly the display was dependent on a small handful of dedicated exhibitors.  Many of them needed to stay in the area the previous night, in order to get their plants on the bench in time for judging.

Nevertheless there were some magnificent plants on the bench; Cyclamen and Dionysia jostled with Narcissus and Saxifraga, along with the later-flowering Daphne and Tecophilaea.


I started taking these views of the halls as small groups of judges roamed up and down, assessing each class in turn, with stewards trailing each group.  Before long, they had finished this part of the process, and were clustered into a huddle, making decisions about the awards.

Six large pans of Rock Plants

One of the tasks for the huddle was to examine Ian Robertson’s entry for the large six-pan class.  The judges duly awarded Ian the RHS Sewell Medal.

Cyclamen pseudibericum forma roseum

For me, the outstanding plant in Ian’s collection was this stunning, near white selection of Cyclamen pseudibericum.  There is just the faintest hint of pink in the buds.

Pleione rakata ‘Shot Silk’

Another member of the six-pan entry caught the judges’ attention.  This fine pan of the purple and yellow Pleione rakata ‘Shot Silk’ received the Graham Lovell Salver (for the best orchid in the show).  However, the rhubarb-and-custard colour scheme divided judges and visitors alike.  The white flowers of Pleione formosana ‘Avalanche’ next to it met with universal approval, though some were tiring slightly, and ‘Shot Silk’ was in better condition.

Cyclamen persicum forma puniceum

Elsewhere, Ian Robertson exhibited his usual mix of Cyclamen and spring bulbs.  I always love this startling magenta form of C. persicum.

Erythronium hendersonii

Ian’s Erythronium hendersonii may have won its class, but the heat of the hall was doing it no favours.  This image, taken on the bench during judging, is the only one which does it any kind of justice.  It is a lovely plant, but crying out for cool damp conditions.

Tulipa neustreuvii

By contrast, this little tulip, also from Ian Robertson, was desperate for some warmth and sun.  I waited right to the end of the day to photograph it.

Six small pans of Rock Plants

In the small pan class for six rock plants, there was little debate about Bob and Rannveig Wallis’ entry, which received the AGS Medal.

Narcissus ‘Cartledge’

This little Narcissus hybrid (found in Jim Archibald’s sand plunge) has bulked up a lot since 2019, when Bob and Rannveig Wallis brought it to this show and it won a Preliminary Commendation.  It appears to have N. bulbocodium in its ancestry, together with N. triandrus.  Neither of those led me to expect its strong, and rather beautiful scent.

Hyacinthella dalmatica

This lovely Hyacinthella formed another member of Bob and Rannveig’s small six-pan entry.

Fritillaria crassifolia subsp crassifolia

The star of the six-pan exhibit was this Fritillaria, which was a close contender for the best plant in a 19cm pot.  This earned a Certificate of Merit for Bob and Rannveig.

Small pan class for three Bulbous plants

Bob and Rannveig also won the Veitch Trophy for the small pan class for three pans of bulbous plants.  Their winning combination consisted of Tulipa kurdica, Erythronium californicum, and Narcissus bulbocodium.

Display by RHS Rosemoor Alpine Team

At one end of the hall, a table wore an attractive display from the alpine team, for which they received a Silver Award.

Pleione grandiflora

This exhibit contained a pretty pan of Pleione grandiflora, not yet fully out.

Anemone pavonina

The standout plant in the RHS Rosemoor exhibit stood at the back – this fabulous purple form of Anemone pavonina, which received a Certificate of Merit.

Primula ‘Old Port’

We were delighted to see a new exhibitor in the Novice section, Helen Brown.  She won the Dartington Trophy for the section aggregate.  Her plants included a pan of Cyclamen hederifolium subsp crassifolium with a lovely leaf pattern.  This pan of Primula ‘Old Port’ was dug up from the garden during the week, but nevertheless won the Otter Trophy for the best plant in the section.


Duncan Bennett has been a stalwart of this show for many years.  He specialises in the Porophyllum saxifrages, and his exhibits always include hybrid cultivars which are new to me.

Here are a number of Duncan’s plants from around the show.  These are, respectively:

  • Saxifraga ‘Aretiastrum’
  • Saxifraga ‘Bohemian Karst’ (a particularly lovely hybrid)
  • Saxifraga ‘Red Crinoline’
  • Saxifraga ‘Kotyz’

Intermediate section class for six pans of rock plants.

The Dartmoor Trophy for the Intermediate section aggregate went to David Carver.  The plants in his six-pan entry seemed a little small, and he only received second place.

Nevertheless, this exhibit contained some lovely cultivars, including:

  • Fritillaria sewerzowii ‘Brown Eyes’
  • Narcissus ‘King of Spain’

Daphne genkwa

For many, the pick of David Carver’s plants was this Daphne genkwa, covered in lilac blossom, which for a Daphne is strangely lacking in scent.  This received another Certificate of Merit.  I am a little surprised by its hardiness (reportedly hardy to UK Zone 5 i.e. at least -10C); anecdotal experience suggests that it is a species best kept under cover and away from frost.

Narcissus bulbocodium genuinus RWM 84-26

All season, David Carver has been bringing attractive miniature daffodils.  Here he showed a small pan of an old Narcissus bulbocodium clone with short stems and big hooped bells.

Narcissus hybrid AW 3509-1

David also exhibited a lovely Narcissus triandrus hybrid.  This was raised originally by Anne Wright, and distributed under the cultivar number AW 3509-1.

Hyacinthoides vincentina

Most of David’s plants were bulbs, but not all were daffodils – he also showed a pan of the little Hyacinthoides vincentina.

Erythronium hendersonii ‘Pacific Skies’

Another of David’s plants, this little-known clone of Erythronium hendersonii, ‘Pacific Skies’ was particularly interesting, with its white centres and blackcurrant tips to the petals.

Tecophilaea violiflora

Finally, David brought the striking and uncommon Tecophilaea violiflora, which he showed last year at Loughborough.  Elsewhere in the Intermediate section, Jim Loring showed a three-pan entry of different forms of the more familiar Tecophilaea cyanocrocus.

Cyclamen persicum

But Jim Loring’s best plant was this Cyclamen persicum.  This was at least the third time he has won the Cornwall Trophy (for the best plant in the Intermediate section) with Cyclamen persicum, though I am not sure whether all three were the same plant.  This is the only show he attends, so we were delighted to hear he has attained his Silver Medal.

Mammillaria hahniana

In the Open section, Anne Vale exhibited three Mammillaria in the class for three plants from the same continent.  I was particularly taken by the geometric structure of this Mammillaria hahniana, though I carried it very cautiously.

Cardamine kitaibelii

Another plant from Anne which I have photographed before was this lovely creamy white Cardamine.  I have a feeling it might be one of those plants which it is safer to keep in a pot.

Flower arrangement

Anne Vale’s flower arrangement had a solitary flower of Iris tuberosa sprouting out of the top in a rather peculiar way.

Tulipa stapfii

The most eye-catching of Anne’s exhibits was this pan of vibrant red tulips.

Fritillaria wendelboi

Diane Clement brought two plants which elicited a huge amount of interest; both won Certificates of Merit.  The first was a Fritillaria which she has been exhibiting under the name F. wendelboi for several years.  There was much debate about the name, and further investigation is required.  Unfortunately my photo of the inside of the flower doesn’t show the nectaries properly.

Caltha polypetala x leptosepala ‘Moonshine’

Diane also brought this lovely marsh marigold.  This also received a Certificate of Merit.  Everyone admired it.  First impressions suggest that it is as vigorous as our native Caltha palustris, but in fact expert opinion suggested it is hard to grow, and particularly difficult to flower as well as this.

Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Arctic Bells’

Dot Sample showed a remarkably late pan of Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Arctic Bells’.  Other exhibitors had this in flower at the Pershore show, weeks ago.

Narcissus bulbocodium M88-32

Joint first with the ‘Arctic Bells’ above was this fine older selection of Narcissus bulbocodium, exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Narcissus alpestris

We have seen Narcissus moschatus at the earlier shows.  It was a pleasure to see this pan of the slightly smaller, more delicate and more difficult Narcissus alpestris, exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Iris bucharica

Bob and Rannveig also brought two big pots containing two of the easier Juno iris.  The first was this fine display of Iris bucharica.

Iris graeberiana x magnifica

The second iris exhibited by Bob and Rannveig was this lovely blue hybrid between Iris graeberiana and Iris magnifica.

Scilla reverchonii

This is the one pot I elected not to carry.  I photographed Bob and Rannveig’s Scilla on the show bench during judging.  After due consideration, I decided those images were good enough for a distinctly heavy exhibit.

Fritillaria poluninii

Going to the other extreme, Bob and Rannveig Wallis also brought this little pot, containing six bulbs of the tiny Fritillaria poluninii, every one in flower.

Fritillaria gibbosa

There were three very different forms of Fritillaria gibbosa on the benches.  First, the familiar pink form exhibited by Bob and Rannveig.

Then a rather less common creamy yellow form which Bob and Rannveig have been exhibiting for a number of years.

Finally, from George Elder, a peachy, almost orange form.

Fritillaria baysunensis

George Elder also exhibited a pan of Fritillaria baysunensis, which featured in my report at the Loughborough show.  I am really struggling to understand how this differs from Fritillaria bucharica.

Sparaxis grandiflora subsp acutiloba

Of course, my favourite plants from George’s collection are the South African bulbs.  The judges tend to dismiss plants like this as easy to grow, and not very hardy.  I suspect that neither of these are true.  Personally I find many South African irids difficult to grow well, including this one, and have never persuaded it to flower.  I am not sure of the hardiness; many of these irids are surprisingly hardy under cold glass, plunged in a sand bench so the pot does not freeze through easily.

Wurmbea stricta

This is one of my favourites, though George always grows it much better than I do.  Formerly known as Onixotis stricta, I have seen photographs of it flowering in the wild in standing water, so I suspect that it may require more water in growth than I give it.

Primula ‘Coy’

One final plant from George Elder.  This is a Primula hybrid raised many years ago by Margaret Earle.  It was always a favourite of my stepfather David Philbey, who grew it for 30 years, but it never finds much favour with the judges.  The leaves tend to look rather green and fleshy – that is just how it grows, not poor cultivation.  And it is called ‘Coy’ for its reluctance to flower well.  This pan is exceptionally well-flowered, and the equal of any I can find grown by David.

Primula x pubescens

Martin Rogerson has been exhibiting this plant for a number of years.  I suspect the lack of a cultivar name does not mean that it is a new hybrid raised from seed, but rather that at some point in the past its label vanished.

Primula ‘Ellen Page’

I remarked on this plant last year at the Early Spring Show.  This year the season is later, and Paul and Gill Ranson brought it to Rosemoor with buds still to come.

Primula henrici

Paul and Gill also exhibited this lovely pale Primula henrici, grown from seed sown in 2015.  Barely half the flowers were open, and it should look much better this coming weekend.

Dionysia everywhere

Of course, Paul and Gill specialise in Dionysia, and exhibit them in every class they possibly can.  Here are some of their three pan exhibits.

This wonderful display helped them win the Peter Edwards Memorial Trophy for the most first prize points in Primulaceae classes.  It was also just sufficient to win them the Exeter Trophy for the Open section aggregate at the show, by one point over Bob and Rannveig Wallis.  This inches them back ahead of Bob and Rannveig in the race for the season aggregate.

But somewhere in the background, behind these two hares, there lurks the tortoise, Don Peace.  It won’t be long before the season for Dionysia and spring bulbs is passing, and Don is catching up.

Dionysia bryoides

Let’s look closer at some of these plants.  Paul and Gill showed a number of different clones of Dionysia bryoides.  Here we have:

  • The mounded D. bryoides DJP/B015
  • Perfectly flat D. bryoides SLIZE 236/GR
  • A new cultivar D. bryoides DZ I 00-31/5. This carries the same number as the plant with the startling colour which I photographed at the Early Spring Show, but it is a sister seedling, in a soft gentle pink/lilac.

Dionysia microphylla GW/H 1302

This is a plant I have loved for as long as I have been taking pictures at shows.  There is only one clone in cultivation, and little chance of adding to it, since the species originates in Afghanistan. Paul and Gill showed two specimens on Saturday – both pictured.

It seldom completely covers itself in flower, though I have seen plants with more flower than this, but that is one of the things I like about it.  The tubes of the flowers are exceptionally long, which means that the flowers hover above the cushion, and you get glimpses of the rosettes beneath.

Dionysia ‘Lycaena’

This hybrid from Paul and Gill (MK9202/4 D. archibaldii x curviflora) has something of the same trait, which it inherits from D. archibaldii, another long-tubed species.

Dionysia ‘Lysithea’

Moving on to bigger plants, this specimen of the beautiful creamy white D. ‘Lysithea’ from Paul and Gill was the largest I have ever seen it.

Dionysia hybrid MK9109/4

I photographed this very plant at the Early Spring show three weeks previously, and was surprised to see it hanging on (just).  Paul and Gill put a lot of effort and skill into extending the flowering of their plants as long as possible.

Dionysia ‘Lunaris’

This is always one of my favourite Dionysia hybrids, so I was surprised that Paul Ranson, the exhibitor, doesn’t rate it that highly.  I love the way the petals twist to make an interesting shape, and a texture on the dome as a whole, rather than making a flat sheet of colour.

Dionysia ‘Selene’

Paul and Gill exhibited several plants of the primrose yellow D. ‘Selene’ (Selene was the ancient Greek moon goddess).  Although not the largest, this plant was perhaps the most perfect.

Dionysia ‘Inka Gold’

This plant was an almost exact twin of the one which won the Duncan Lowe Award last weekend at Kendal for Mark Childerhouse (for the best plant in a pan not exceeding 19cm).  The one shown here won the East Devon Trophy at Rosemoor (also for the best plant in a pan not exceeding 19cm) for Paul and Gill Ranson.  In both cases we saw a tightly packed dome of egg-yolk yellow flowers.

Dionysia sarvestanica subsp spathulata T4Z1044

Finally, the Farrer medal for the best plant in the show went to Paul and Gill for this superb plant of Dionysia sarvestanica subsp spathulata.  Perhaps even more magnificent than the specimen of the same species which won them their last Farrer medal, at the Loughborough show back in 2017.  They were delighted.

I have found show photography a bit of a struggle this year, and at some shows have felt I was just going through the motions.  So it was good to get my photography mojo back for the first time this season, and to come home with a set of pictures I was pleased with.

I would like to thank Jon and Kana and all their helpers for organising such a fine show, and Kana in particular for biscuits, cake and tea to keep me going all day.

It was a great shame I didn’t get to visit the garden – I had worked myself to a standstill, and in any case heavy rain was falling by the time I had packed up the camera gear.  Those exhibitors who did venture out earlier in the day reported that the Narcissus bulbocodium in the meadow were magnificent this year.  Normally, they are just going over at the time of the show; this year, with a slightly later season, they were at their peak.

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