Jon Evans pays tribute to respected judge, exhibitor and long-standing AGS member, Lee Martin, who lost his battle with cancer at the end of March.
I was deeply saddened this weekend to learn that my dear friend Lee Martin has finally lost his long battle with cancer at the age of 69. Lee was one of our premier exhibitors and a respected judge, but more importantly a wonderfully genuine, friendly, generous man.
Lee did not travel the country for every show, but visited only shows where he thought he had good plants, or which would make a good weekend break with his wife Julie. They lived in Pevensey in Sussex, right on the South Coast, so almost every show was a long trip.
Nevertheless, he and Julie were regularly in the top five in the annual aggregate, even last season when he was struggling with illness and a demanding treatment regime. In 27 years of exhibiting he achieved nineteen Gold Bars. For those who are not familiar with shows that signifies a total of 1000 firsts at national shows, 50 for his Gold medal and then 50 for each bar.
As an exhibitor, Lee Martin didn’t specialise in any particular genus, though the Campanulaceae were close to his heart; if anything, he specialised in growing plants for the summer shows. Most of the plants Lee and Julie exhibited were familiar plants for the garden, grown in a cold frame, rather than the carefully controlled alpine house conditions used by the specialist growers. His great skill was to grow these familiar plants superbly well. He won his first Farrer medal in 1993, while he was still in the Intermediate Section, and went on to accumulate an amazing 36 Farrer medals.
Several of these date from before I regularly took photos at shows, or were at shows I didn’t visit, but here are a selection of Lee and Julie’s Farrer Medal winning plants from my archive.
This Campanula pelia MESE 311 (exhibited and formerly known as C. thessala) is a short-lived, monocarpic species. It tends to flower as a small plant in its second year, and then dies. Somehow or other Lee managed to produce a specimen with multiple rosettes and a foaming mass of flower. A magnificent plant, and one I will always remember him by.
South West Show 2002
Lee and Julie exhibited this as Narcissus bulbocodium; at the time Narcissus obesus had not been classified as a separate species. When the two species were separated, the name Narcissus obesus became the correct one for these short stemmed plants with big yellow upward facing trumpets and reasonably prostrate leaves. This clone was later named N. obesus ‘Lee Martin’ in honour of Lee.
Another fabulous exhibit
This was a large, heavy and delicate plant, so I photographed it in situ on the showbench, with a piece of grey card behind most of the plant. Because it was larger than the background, I then spent several hours in post processing to produce this result.
Of all the plants shown here, this is unquestionably the trickiest, and normally requires alpine house conditions. It needs a warm summer rest, good drainage and careful watering (I’m not an expert), and then flowers in February when the weather could easily damage the flowers.
Please note that this is not the same plant which won in 2009. Keen alpine growers will know that the silver saxifrages are monocarpic i.e. they die after flowering, so it is important to propagate selected clones like this by removing and rooting non-flowering side-rosettes.
Lee’s plants were often huge, and required meticulous care to avoid damage, both in the car and when moving them around the show. He hated photographers moving his plants, and would always carry them himself. Although he came to trust me over the years, I would still ask him to carry anything particularly large or delicate.
This plant was simply too heavy and too fragile; neither Lee nor I wanted to move it, so I photographed it in situ on the show bench. It is closely related to Campanula pelia shown above, and was grown from seed collected by Melvyn Jope. Both species come from rocky areas in central Greece.
However, the thing I will remember best about Lee Martin is his wonderful flower arrangements. I can remember when he first started producing them. For a long time, the other exhibitors believed it was Julie who produced them. I have photographed them regularly at shows over the years, so here are just a few (I have images of over 50).
At the Loughborough Autumn Show in 2017 the organisers had a public ballot for the best exhibit. I was delighted that the “People’s Choice” award went to Lee and Julie Martin for their flower arrangement.
For me, this is possibly the finest flower arrangement I have ever photographed at an AGS show. In real life it was stunningly beautiful. Some of the judges say you should be able to pick out the Farrer plant when you walk into the show hall. If flower arrangements were eligible, I would have given the award to this arrangement that day.
It is sad to think that this is the last arrangement Lee will make.
With the current Coronavirus situation, the funeral will need to be a very small family affair. Julie Martin asks that anyone who wants to remember Lee should do so via a donation to the hospice that cared for him:
St. Wilfrid’s Hospice
c/o Serenity Funeral Directors
43 South Street
Eastbourne BN21 4UT
You can donate digitally, by visiting our Facebook page, finding the post about Lee and clicking the ‘donate’ button.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org