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A visit to Carmarthenshire – January 2019

January 25, 2019
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So, after many years of posting pictures to the AGS discussion forum, I finally have a new AGS diary to record my adventures.

I have rather mixed feelings about this; I liked the forum, where I was able to see pictures from shows I didn’t get to, and pictures of plants I didn’t see at the shows I did go to, and where I could ask questions and get responses about plants, and plant names, or about exhibitors. I believe that a comment/feedback facility will be implemented as the website evolves.

However, at least all the postings I made to the forum about shows past, and gardens I have visited, plants I have grown etc, have been saved as the archive to this diary, and I have a place where I can continue to post the pictures I take, for people who can’t get to the show, and for the exhibitors who are at least occasionally delighted to see their plant looking so good.

Although the backbone of this diary will undoubtedly be sets of photos documenting the plants at AGS shows, I also intend to include plants from my own garden, and pictures of gardens I visit, providing the owners are happy for me to do so, and propose to extend this to include photos from my regular trips to see plants in the wild, mainly in this country, but also overseas.

Crocus ochroleucus

I’m going to start this diary with a couple of pictures taken in November, after the demise of the old discussion forum, in the garden of my stepfather David Philbey. There is often debate about whether Crocus ochroleucus is hardy in the open garden, or whether it needs to be grown in a pot. In David’s garden it thrives in a very exposed corner in full sun, growing in a bed that is basically pure sand (he lives on a sandstone outcrop), adulterated with a little used potting compost. Sadly, I was not able to return on a sunny day to see them open.

Strumaria prolifera

Moving on now, to the plants flowering in my greenhouse in early December. Interestingly, several of these were six weeks later than normal – they normally flower mid to late October, just missing the autumn shows. This first plant is one which I had with me at the Kent Autumn Show in 2017, flowering for the first time, from tiny seedlings imported from South Africa. This year it was notably larger and stronger, and it is becoming quite a striking plant, although it will be a challenge to persuade it to flower in time for a show.

Massonia hirsuta

Another plant I would love to exhibit is this beautiful Massonia, grown from seed under the collection number BURDACH 11182.  I am told by a reliable source that it is Massonia hirsuta.

Massonia tenella

Now two more plants: the first is a Massonia which I received as M. jasminiflora (Nieuwoudtville), but which I think is now properly M. tenella. In recent years the genus Massonia has seen significant revision, and plants originally labelled M. jasminiflora can be four or five different species. The second photo is a plant which is definitely M. tenella.

A visit to Carmarthenshire – South Wales

At the beginning of January, I went on a long-scheduled weekend away in South Wales, staying with Bob and Rannveig Wallis, and delivering three different talks to local gardening groups in three days. My wife Helen and I had a lovely weekend, starting with a fish supper before the AGS group meeting in Bridgend on Friday night (do other local groups do this, or does it happen in Wales because people come from such a wide area?), followed by two days of wonderful hospitality from Bob and Rannveig, including a chance to explore their many greenhouses.

Alpine House

The main alpine house is huge and packed with interest, from the leaves of autumn-flowering bulbs, early spring Sternbergia and huge pots of Cyclamen graecum, down to pots of twin-scaled daffodils at the far end. On the south facing side of the house, many bulbs were in full bud, or coming into flower, including the first flowers opening on Fritillaria karelinii. I had expected to find plants in bloom that I never get to photograph at shows but in practice many of the plants I photographed were familiar from the South Wales show in February, flowering six weeks early.

The entrance to the alpine house with the leaves of autumn-flowering bulbs.

Huge pots of Cyclamen graecum.

Pots of the Rif form of Narcissus cantabricus, which have been twin-scaled and are flowering for the first time.

View from the other end of the house, with Narcissus papyraceus in the foreground.

Show pots of Narcissus cultivars, mainly forms of N. cantabricus, coming into flower.

Acis tingitana SBL203

One of the plants coming into flower was this Acis (formerly Leucojum). I grow this from several different sources, including one form which flowered regularly in November, about the time of the AGS AGM, but they went back badly a few years back, and I am only now getting back to the point where the plants look healthy. I have always loved them for their delicacy.

Narcissus cantabricus

Now for some of the pots of daffodils which were flowering. The first is what I normally expect to see as N. cantabricus – slightly cream coloured downward facing trumpets on quite tall stems. The second was raised from garden seed by Bob and Rannveig and has large, frilly pure white outward facing trumpets on very short stems – a very fine form.

Narcissus cantabricus SF165

A pale yellow collection.

Narcissus cantabricus Rif form

The form of N. cantabricus from the Rif is very different and has been given many different names by different authors over the years. Small, starry, upward facing flowers – this is absolutely charming and I love it, whatever it is called. The last photo shows the pan of twin-scales coming into flower for the first time.

Narcissus romieuxii x SF168

This was an oddity: a single flower but a huge one – the trumpet was three fingers across, so something like 1.5 inches.

Narcissus ‘December Gold’

A very early deep yellow flowered hoop petticoat.

Narcissus hedreanthus

A lovely pan of N. hedreanthus, packed with buds, but flowering way too early for the South Wales show.

Narcissus papyraceus

The paper-white Narcissus which was in the foreground of one of the glasshouse views.

Hyacinthella heldreichii

I’m sure this plant has appeared at the South Wales show in previous years.

Sternbergia fischeriana

The last plant I photographed in this greenhouse was Sternbergia fischeriana. Only one flower was out, though there were several buds to come, but I have never photographed it before.

Cold frame

Below the main house on the south side is a long raised bed packed with bulbs, including winter-flowering irises, and then a long cold frame.

Other glass houses

As well as the main glass house, there is a variety of other smaller greenhouses and polytunnels, each providing slightly different levels of shade, moisture or ventilation. This allows Bob and Rannveig to organise their plants according to cultivation requirements, so bulbs which, for example, require water at different times, are grouped together.  I wish someone would write a book identifying such different cultivation groups, and the plants which fall into each. Some patches of the benches are bare, where pots of bulbs, mainly fritillaries, are vernalising in the fridge in the shed, and will be brought out shortly before they are expected to flower.

This greenhouse was dominated by a small collection of Galanthus species and cultivars.

A collection of pots containing bulb seedlings.

Adonis amurensis ‘Semi-Pleno’

In one shade tunnel, I found two huge specimens of Cyclamen hederifolium, and between them a large pot of one of the semi-double forms of Adonis amurensis ‘Semi-Pleno’. This went with us to the meeting on Saturday afternoon.

Merendera and Colchicum

The contents of this poly-tunnel included a collection of small spring-flowering Colchicum. You can just make out a small pot of Colchicum luteum, needing a little warmth to open.

Colchicum trigynum/Merendera trigyna

Amongst these were a variety of different forms of this little Merendera, which normally flowers before the first show, including both pink and a very attractive white form with black anthers, which had to spend a night in the warmth of the kitchen before I could photograph it.

Muscari discolor

More familiar from the early spring shows was this little Muscari.

Irises and Corydalis

Another greenhouse, this one full of show pots of Iris and Corydalis. The bare spot in the foreground is waiting for some of the fritillaries out of the fridge.

Iris reticulata

The blue plant you can see on the left is a pot of Iris reticulata from wild-collected seed.

Iris danfordiae JJA 585.900

This is the tiny form of Iris danfordiae which Jim Archibald collected, and showed to wonderful acclaim at the South Wales show in 2010. You can see his pan of it if you look back in the archives of this diary.

Colchicum hungaricum

At the back of the bench was a large pan of Colchicum hungaricum which I am sure I have photographed at the South Wales show in previous years, already in full flower.

Corydalis popovii

On the opposite bench, the Corydalis popovii are starting to appear.

Corydalis aff. ledebouriana

With them was a puzzle, grown from seed collected in Tadjikistan as a possible new species, but with some similarities to C. lebebouriana.

Scilla messenaica

The lovely Scilla messenaica makes a fine pot plant. I grow it in the garden, where it flowers much later in the year.

Cyclamen alpinum

The final greenhouse was notable for a group of Cyclamen alpinum in full flower; more plants which won’t make the early shows this year.

Fritillaria exhibit

On the Saturday evening, I spent some time with Bob and Rannveig, going through all the fritillaries I have photographed at shows over the years, attempting to confirm their identity, and revise it to current nomenclature, with a view to putting together a display of photographs of Fritillaria in cultivation for the South Wales show this year. It has been an interesting exercise; there are some notable gaps where species which we see regularly have never attracted my attention to get photographed.

I have now embarked on printing and mounting somewhere between 250 and 300 images of just over 100 different species and cultivars – I hope it will make a good display. I find it very useful to be able to compare the different species side by side.

Unfortunately, I got about thirty images into this huge task and my new printer decided to stop cooperating. I hope I will get things sorted out and still be able to put on the display, but there was considerable time pressure before this delay. You don’t normally see the effort and problems behind putting on my display, but I reckon it takes me 5-10 minutes to print each picture (when the printer is behaving) and about 15 minutes to mount each one, so a huge amount of effort goes into a large display, not to mention the cost of paper, ink, and mountboard. Still I’m looking forward to the South Wales Show, and hope to see lots of you there.

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 especially 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 is still actively involved in plant photography, both at shows (he visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors) and in gardens both public and private, and he makes regular 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