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Harlow Carr Show 2021

October 16, 2021
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After a long hiatus the exhibitors reconvene at the AGS Harlow Carr Show.

A show inside a tent

Last Saturday I found myself once again arriving bright and early at RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate for the AGS Harlow Carr Show.  But the world has changed since I was last there.  Instead of the two rooms at the top of the Bramall Learning Centre, our path led to a marquee at the opposite end of the garden.  This provided a perhaps less cramped and certainly better ventilated venue for the show, as required in these post-Covid times.

It was a great relief to see and speak to the gathering exhibitors.  Though the air of competition was still present, I think everyone relished being able to speak to old friends face to face once again.  By the time everyone had arrived, and judging started, the benches were creaking with the familiar autumn mixture of plants, and the three sales stands were besieged with eager customers.

Small Pan Class for Six Rock Plants

At the Harlow Carr show, the only six pan class was in the small pan section; the AGS Medal was won by this convincing entry from Bob and Rannveig Wallis, who had travelled all the way from Carmarthen.  The groups consisted of three neat pans of Cyclamen, two autumn-flowering bulbs (Allium callimischon subsp haemostictum and Biarum pyrami – deep blood red and exuding a noxious fragrance), and an Oxalis (not considered bulbous under AGS rules).

Oxalis perdicaria

Here is a portrait of the Oxalis – I think the only one which opened properly in the slightly gloomy conditions of the marquee.  Even those exhibitors who place plants like this outdoors to catch the sun before judging were frustrated; the air was cool and the sky lightly overcast.  Perfect for photography, but not for encouraging flowers which need sunlight to open.

Flower arrangement

Next to the six-pan class, was the one for miniature flower arrangements.  As on my last visit to the Harlow Carr show in 2019, Fred and Pat Bundy were worthy winners with this lovely creation.  I am sorry I did not also photograph the second place entry from David Carver.

Petrocosmea species

In recent years, we have seen an influx of Petrocosmea species from China in the autumn shows.  Dave Mountfort exhibited two plants of this clone as P. caerulea, and it was awarded a Preliminary Commendation.  Subsequent inquiries have suggested that this name is incorrect, and that the plant belongs to ‘the complex surrounding P. longianthera and P. thermopunctata’.  Whatever name further investigation yields, it is a beautiful plant.

Petrocosmea minor

This Petrocosmea was also exhibited by Dave Mountfort.  It has been around for a number of years under this name, but I hear that the nomenclature for all the plants in cultivation is under review, and several of them are likely to change.

Saxifraga fortunei ‘Cherry Pie’

Another group of plants we now expect to see at the autumn shows are the various forms and clones of Saxifraga fortunei.  Tom Green exhibited this plant, aptly named ‘Cherry Pie’.

Saxifraga fortunei ‘Eiga’

Don Peace exhibited a different form, which was awarded the Mr & Mrs W H Nortcliffe Memorial Trophy for the best plant in a 19cm pot, and a Certificate of Merit.  Apparently ‘Eiga’ means glory or splendour in Japanese.

Saxifraga fortunei ‘Rubrifolia’

I always find this cultivar particularly attractive; Tom Green exhibited this specimen.

Saxifraga berica

Mark Childerhouse won the class for a plant ‘new or rare in cultivation’ with this unfamiliar saxifrage from section Saxifraga.  His notes tell us that it is endemic to the Colli Berici, a small limestone ridge near Vicenza in northern Italy.

Gentiana ‘Murrayfield’

Twenty years ago, the autumn shows always featured a fine display of large pans of gentians.  I don’t know whether these have become harder to grow, shifted season, or just fallen out of favour, but at this show there were only two.  John Richards brought the best of them.

Habenaria limprichtii

This orchid from Yunnan exhibited by Steve Clements took Second place in the ‘new or rare’ class.

Cyclamen rohlfsianum

As you will have noticed in the earlier show views, Cyclamen provide the mainstay of any autumn show, and the Harlow Carr show in particular.  In the Intermediate section, I won a class for a plant grown from seed with this little Cyclamen rohlfsianum.  It has a most attractive leaf form.

By contrast, this Cyclamen rohlfsianum exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis has wonderful deep pink fluted flowers.

Cyclamen cyprium pink form

Ian Robertson produced a charming, delicate plant of Cyclamen cyprium, with a gentle pink blush.

Cyclamen intaminatum

I always love these deep pink forms of C. intaminatum (though a white one seems to have crept in here).  This is another pan exhibited by Ian Robertson.

Cyclamen confusum

The botanists have now separated this species out from C. hederifolium.  The two species are very similar; C. confusum is supposed to be more robust, with thicker, shiny leaves.  David Carver exhibited this specimen.

Cyclamen hederifolium fragrant group

Many different Cyclamen hederifolium forms were displayed.  Michael Wilson exhibited this neat plant.

Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Ivy Ice Rose’

Tommy Anderson exhibited this distinctive cultivar.  I’m still not entirely sure whether I find it attractive or not, with its deep cherry flowers with white tips.

Cyclamen hederifolium var crassifolium

Moving up the pan sizes, Bob and Rannveig Wallis exhibited several huge cyclamen including this one.

Cyclamen graecum

Finally we come to the Cyclamen graecum group.  I will start with this cute little plant from Eric Rainford.

Cyclamen graecum subsp candicum

These tiny leaved forms of Cyclamen graecum subsp candicum are always my favourite – Derek Pickard exhibited this one.

Cyclamen graecum

Another excellent form in a small pan, from Ian Robertson.

Cyclamen graecum subsp graecum ‘Rhodopou’

For photographic purposes, I prefer small Cyclamen.  This plant from Bob and Rannveig Wallis is about as large as I want.  At this size, they still have a shape and structure which is lost by the biggest specimens, much as we might admire the cultivation skills required to produce them.

Cyclamen graecum subsp graecum

The judges awarded a Certificate of Merit to this plant exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis.

Cyclamen maritimum

Another of the many large Cyclamen displayed by Bob and Rannveig Wallis, which helped them win the aggregate trophy for the Open section.

Cyclamen mirabile

Cyclamen appear in classes for foliage as well as flowering plants. Don Peace won a class for foliage effect with this pan of Cyclamen mirabile.

Cyclamen persicum

David Charlton exhibited this pan of Cyclamen persicum seedlings in the class for plants grown from seed.

Aruncus aesthusifolius

Shows always have classes for plants exhibiting autumn colour at this time of year.  This Aruncus exhibited by Diane Clement was one of my favourites.

Shortia uniflora

This Shortia exhibited by Frank and Barbara Hoyle caught the judges’ eyes, and received a Certificate of Merit.

Sedum sexangulare

This Sedum provided an unexpected demonstration of autumn colour for David Carver.

Helichrysum pagiophyllum

David Carver brought a huge array of plants up from Yelverton in West Devon, including this beautifully grown little cushion.  He went home with the aggregate trophies for both the Novice and Intermediate sections.

Raoulia x loganii

This tricky Raoulia hybrid won the West Riding Plate for the best plant in the Novice section for David Carver.

Dionysia esfandiarii SLIZE259

The cushion classes were full of monsters as well.  John Dixon’s Dionysia esfandiarii was considerably bigger, and heavier, than the last time I photographed it.

Ephedra frustillata

Chris Bowyer specialises in alpines with a slightly oddball, and often succulent bent.  I had never photographed this Ephedra (one pan dwarf shrub) before.

Euphorbia clavarioides var truncata

Again from Chris Bowyer, this heavyweight appeared in the cushion classes.

Maihueniopsis subterranea subsp pulcherrima

These days, shows have classes for hardy cactus, won here by Chris Bowyer with this Maihueniopsis.

Delosperma echinata

Another unusual succulent appeared in the class for plants from the Southern Hemisphere, this time exhibited by Carol Kellett.

Empodium flexile

I want to move on now to bulbous species.  Empodium is a South African genus of plants with six-petalled yellow flowers, some of which have a lovely scent.  The plant shown here is one of the clones we are most familiar with, usually exhibited as E. flexile or E. namaquensis. Two winters ago I took part in an email discussion which concluded that

  • the plants we grow in cultivation in the UK match their botanical descriptions very badly, and
  • the names attributed to them are questionable at best.

We badly need a botanist with experience of the different species in the wild to review the cultivated material.

Empodium gloriosum

This, on the other hand, is a plant which I think we have never seen on the AGS show benches before.  It was given to me by the late Terry Smale, under the name E. gloriosum.  I cannot be sure whether the name is correct – the four petalled flowers make it a curiosity, but are unlikely to be characteristic of the species.  The second image is of Terry’s pan (much better than mine).

Crocus kotschyanus

Bob and Rannveig Wallis won the Crocus Award with this pan of C. kotschyanus.  The crocuses were another group which stubbornly refused to open for judging, though this pan was starting to oblige by the time I photographed it.

Crocus pulchellus

David Carver exhibited this pot of C. pulchellus in the Intermediate section.

Galanthus peshmenii ‘Kastellorizo’

Visitors are always surprised that there are snowdrops at our autumn shows.  Anne Wright brought an attractive selection.

Galanthus peshmenii ‘Melvyn’s Hope’

Anne Wright exhibited another more unusual form of G. peshmenii, with green tips to the outside of the petals.

Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Eleni’

I have seen this one growing happily outside in a well-drained situation on a rock garden.  Exhibited by Anne Wright.

Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’

Another lovely cultivar of G. reginae-olgae, selected by the late Peter Moore of Cyclamen fame, exhibited here by Anne Wright.

Narcissus deficiens

There was also a scattering of autumn-flowering daffodil species, and I had several conversations about the naming of these, which also seems to be rather confused.  Anne Wright exhibited this pan as N. deficiens.

Narcissus elegans

Two slightly different plants exhibited as N. elegans by Anne Wright and Bob & Rannveig Wallis respectively.

Narcissus viridiflorus

This is my own pot of N. viridiflorus.  It looks rather better now, a few days later, as most of the scapes have produced a second flower.

Allium callimischon subsp haemostictum

The Farrer medal for the best plant in the show went to Mark Childerhouse for this extremely heavy autumn favourite (he apologised that I would have to carry it).  A spectacular exhibit !

Allium callimischon subsp callimischon

It was interesting to compare the Farrer plant with this taller and rather less familiar subspecies, exhibited by David Carver.

As always at the end of the show, there was a mad rush of exhibitors to gather together their plants and depart.  Those most pots to collect inevitably remain the longest.  They have to wait until they have access to a trolley, or can get space to bring their car closer.  This tends to underline how much the shows depend on a handful of major exhibitors, many of whom travel long distances with overnight stays in order to enter.  These photos (courtesy of Robert Rolfe) show the contributions of just two of them, Ian Robertson and Bob & Rannveig Wallis respectively.

Along with everyone else, I really enjoyed the AGS Harlow Carr show.  I think everyone was delighted to be able to meet up with and talk to so many old friends.  More details, including class by class results, are available here.

I would like to thank show secretaries Ian and Georgina Instone and all their team for their hard work in difficult circumstances, in particular the ladies who produced an early morning cup of tea and currant bun for the exhibitors.

Thanks also to the to the RHS team at Harlow Carr for their help and support, without which the show could not have happened.

And finally, thanks to all the exhibitors for braving the uncertainties of the current situation and bringing such a wonderful selection of plants.

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