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Harlow Carr Show 2019

October 29, 2019
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I don’t normally travel as far as Yorkshire for shows but this year Helen and I decided to make the trip to the Harlow Carr show.

I was due to speak at the North Wales AGS group in Bangor on the Wednesday before the show, so our journey became a mini road-trip. We had a relatively dry trip up to Aberconwy (including a brief detour to Ashwood Nursery) and enjoyed our evening with the group, and the kind hospitality of Tim and Gemma overnight.

We planned to spend the Thursday evening with Helen’s mother in Nottingham so we were able to make a leisurely journey across the country, taking the slower, more scenic route through the hills to Llangollen, rather than chasing the Expressway across North Wales.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

This trip was much more enjoyable than racing along the dual carriageways and we were able to visit the World Heritage site at Pontcysyllte aqueduct, which I have never visited before.

This was designed by Thomas Telford and William Jessop in 1805. It was built to carry the proposed Ellesmere Canal (intended to link the River Severn at Shrewsbury with the Port of Liverpool, via the coal mines of North Wales. 18 towering stone arches carry a cast-iron trough 336 yards long 124 feet above the River Dee. Although the canal was never completed, the structure remains the longest aqueduct in Great Britain and the highest canal aqueduct in the world.

The canal is still navigable by narrowboat and links Llangollen with Hurleston in Cheshire, via Ellesmere in Shropshire.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, though it was a bit unnerving on the towpath out in the middle of the valley. Later, we had an excellent cup of tea and bacon butty in the narrowboat cafe, rocking gently from side to side.

Nottingham to Harrogate

After a great meal out in Nottingham, we set off northwards towards Harrogate the following day, accompanied by Helen’s mum. Again, our travel times were leisurely and we detoured to Pottertons Nursery en route, where the girls looked after us very well and plied us with tea and biscuits, though owners Rob and Jackie were away, making their way back from a trip to Scotland.

We had found a nice pub just north of Harrogate to stay in, with an excellent carvery in the evenings. By the time we reached the show on Saturday morning, my few plants had been in the car for three days and had travelled 650 miles.

Packed show halls

Helen dropped me off early at Harlow Carr, so that she could spend the day with her mum, revisiting the Yorkshire Dales – she grew up near Halifax. The show takes place in the two upper floor rooms of Bramall Learning Centre, accessed by a back entrance direct from the carpark. By the time I entered, both rooms were packed with plants, particularly the room I hoped to set up my studio in, which housed the small pan and Intermediate classes. I ended up working in a corner next to massed pots of Cyclamen, but I was partly obstructing the aisle, and had to abandon operations for a while when the show was first opened, and at its busiest.

Six small pans of Rock Plants

In one corner of this room was Alan Newton’s entry of six small pans of rock plants.

In the other room, there was a little more space around the pots but the benches were still pretty full and, with the operation for the tea and cake bar, there was little room for photographers.

Saxifraga fortunei  ‘Rubrifolia’

One of highlights of the large pan section was this huge pot of Saxifraga fortunei ‘Rubrifolia’ exhibited by Mark Childerhouse. There was no point even trying to carry it to the ‘studio’; it would have eclipsed my background cards.

Flower arrangement

I have learnt now that as long as the class has been judged, the flower arrangements are one of the few things I can remove to photograph before judging has finished without getting into trouble. This lovely, autumn-themed arrangement was produced by Fred and Pat Bundy.

Crocus goulimyi

As always, my chief concern when judging has finished is to photograph as quickly as possible the plants that might close up, or otherwise deteriorate during the show. At the autumn shows that means starting with the Crocus. This pan of C. goulimyi was exhibited by John Richards.

Crocus goulimyi subsp. leucanthus

Also from John Richards.

Crocus kotschyanus subsp. kotschyanus

Vic and Janet Aspland exhibited a nice fresh looking pan of Crocus kotschyanus subsp. kotschyanus.

Nothoscordum montevidense

I was delighted to see that my pan of Nothoscordum montevidense had responded to the warm and morning sunshine by opening fully before judging started. I had entered it in the class for a plant rare in cultivation. Apparently, there was some discussion about whether it was sufficiently rare for the class but I haven’t seen it exhibited by anyone else in the last decade. Anyway, in the end they decided it was worth a first – that is 6 this year, way more than my normal 0 or 1.

Oxalis massoniana

Oxalis is another genus with flowers which can close as soon as the sun goes off them. This lovely little pot of O. massoniana was exhibited by Gemma Hayes.

Oxalis hirta purple form

I was rather intrigued by this plant exhibited by Michael Myers in the Intermediate section (he won the Carter Shield for the section aggregate). It is clearly different from both the normal lilac form and the richer purple Gothenburg form, and I would very much like to grow it.

Lachenalia ensifolia subsp. ensifolia (formerly Polyxena)

Peter Farkasch brought a few South African bulbs, including this nice group of Lachenalia.

Sternbergia sicula

In the same three-pan entry, Peter Farkasch had a good pan of Sternbergia sicula, one of several in the show.

Sternbergia sicula

From Bob Worsley.

Sternbergia sicula

Michael Myers won the Kath Dryden award for the best pan of bulbous plants in the Intermediate or Novice sections.

Sternbergia sicula

Finally, this lovely pan won the Mr & Mrs W H Nortcliffe Memorial Trophy for the best plant in a 19cm pot for Vic and Janet Aspland.

Cyclamen rohlfsianum

As well as the Nothoscordum, I had taken two pots of Cyclamen rohlfsianum I had grown from seed from Joy Bishop, which were flowering for the first time. The leaves had lengthened rather disappointingly during their time in the car but I was still pleased with them.

Cyclamen graecum

A very lovely, neat, small pan of Cyclamen graecum from Derek Pickard.

Cyclamen graecum subsp. candicum

Another fine plant from Steve Walters, who went on to win the North of England Horticultural Society’s Cup, the aggregate award for the Open section, with a boot-full of Cyclamen.

Cyclamen purpurascens

I think this lovely silver-leafed plant of C. purpurascens was from Steve Walters but my record-keeping failed so I can’t be sure.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Certainly Steve Walters exhibited the first of these two Cyclamen hederifolium. The second was from Tommy Anderson.

Cyclamen hederifolium  ‘Tilebarn Helena’

This white Cyclamen hederifolium was exhibited by John Savage as Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Cloud’, but was deemed by the cyclamen cognoscenti to be ‘Tilebarn Helena’.

Cyclamen cilicium  D31

An interesting large flowered form of Cyclamen cilicium from Brian Burrow.  I have found out since the show that this is a seedling that Dave Riley gave to Brian resulting from Jim Archibald seed code 035901.8 sown on the 28/11/04.

Cyclamen mirabile

There were various forms of Cyclamen mirabile as well. The first two, with selected leaf markings, were from Steve Walters. The third, deep pink form was from Vic and Janet Aspland.

Galanthus peshmenii  ‘Kastellorizo form’

Fred and Pat Bundy exhibited a substantial pan of this attractive snowdrop, originally collected by Martyn Rix in the ’70s on the Turkish island of Kastellorizo.

Galanthus reginae-olgae

Bob Worsley exhibited this pot of Galanthus reginae-olgae – just catching the last of the morning sunshine.

Gentiana  ‘Blue Silk’

The small pan classes contained few gentians and this one, from Norman Davies, was probably the best.

Saxifraga fortunei  ‘Eiga’

Selected (Japanese?) clones of S. fortunei are becoming a stalwart of the autumn shows; Mark Childerhouse brought this one.

Saxifraga fortunei  ‘Gokka’

From Tom Green.

Petrocosmea minor

Dave Mountfort brought several Petrocosmea, including these two plants of P. minor.

Abies lasiocarpa  ‘Duflon’

Dave Riley exhibited this tiny, desperately slow-growing conifer.

Cystopteris dickieana

Now a couple of ferns. Don Peace showed this one in the small pan classes.

Asplenium fontanum

Brian and Shelagh Smethurst exhibited this fern in the large pan classes.

Aeonium tabuliforme

Michael Wilson exhibited this fabulous rosette, which appealed to the photographer and also to the judges. This sparked a great deal of discussion, for it was generally considered to be very tender. The other curious thing about it was that it won a class for a plant from the Southern Hemisphere. I believe that it is endemic to Tenerife; the last time I checked that was well north of the equator! Anyway, it was a beautiful plant and I was very pleased to photograph it.

Arum pictum

This Arum, exhibited by Michel Myers, gradually tainted the air at one end of the hall. I was glad to put it back on the bench.

Cyclamen mirabile

Steven Squires won the Colin Field Memorial Trophy for class 103 (a plant grown from seed in the Intermediate section), with this Cyclamen.

Colchicum x agrippinum

Michael Wilson exhibited this Colchicum as part of an entry which brought him the Harrogate Salver for the points aggregate in the Novice Section.

Gaultheria mucronata

John Savage brought some fine plants for the large pan classes for plants in cone, fruit or seed. First, a heavily laden specimen of Gaultheria mucronata.

Gaultheria procumbens

Also from John Saxton, this Gaultheria had a real Christmas feel.

Gentiana sino-ornata  ‘Gorau Glas’

A fine large pan of autumn gentians from Frank and Barbara Hoyle. As a grower (and killer!) of cushions, Frank seldom has plants for the autumn shows.

Gentiana  ‘Murrayfield’

The pick of the large-pan gentians came from John Richards.

Cyclamen cilicium

Steve Walters exhibited this large pan of Cyclamen cilicium.

Cyclamen graecum

Derek Pickard won a Certificate of Merit with this large pan of Cyclamen graecum.

Cyclamen hederifolium subsp. crassifolium ex Zakynthos

The other Certificate of Merit awarded at the show went to Steve Walters for this Cyclamen hederifolium.

Allium callimischon

However, the Cyclamen were just pipped to the Farrer Medal (Best in Show) by this fine pan of Allium callimischon from Dave Mountfort.

Scadoxus multiflorus

By the time I had packed up plants and camera gear, and carried it to the far end of the car park where my wife had squeezed back in, there was just time for a quick foray to the Harlow Carr Alpine House, where the plant which most caught my attention was this fabulous South African bulb.

I really enjoyed this show and met up with many old friends from the north, several of whom I hadn’t seen since this time last year. I would like to thank show secretaries Ian and Georgina Instone and all their team for their hard work, in particular the ladies who produced an endless stream of tea and cake from the tiny kitchen.

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