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Loughborough Flower Show

March 11, 2020
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With the warm, wet weather, this has been an early season – as a result, the Loughborough Flower Show benches were laden with plants of all shapes, colours and sizes.

Flowers Everywhere

Exhibitors flocked from all corners of the country and beyond.  We met exhibitors from the North who haven’t yet been at a show this year.  One select band of visitors travelled on the ferry from Ireland.  Another was visiting from Tübingen Botanical Garden near Stuttgart in Germany. And these visitors from far flung climes were not disappointed.

Plants crowded the small pan competition categories, even in the Intermediate and Novice sections, and the large pan benches in the Open (i.e. advanced) section were creaking.  The show photographers (Jim Almond and I) were muttering about the size – and presumed weight – of some of the pots even before judging started. It was clear that it would be hard work to carry all of these to the table where we were doing the photography.

Look at this regiment of Dionysia and Primula allionii.

Dionysia aretioides

Lurking on the end table, with a discreet space around it, was a monster.

Further along this bench were large cushions of Primula allionii, other smaller Dionysia, and pans of Corydalis.

Three pans of Saxifraga

At the far end of this bench Mark Childerhouse produced a superb group of Saxifraga.  But even his plants were dwarfed by the huge white vegetable sheep a little further down the bench.

Six pans grown from seed

The judges’ conversations were long and involved.  Here they are deliberating whether to give a first to Bob and Rannveig’s entry for six pans grown from seed.  They did.

Six small pans of rock plants

The AGS Medal for six small pans of rock plants went to Geoff Rollinson.  This was a lovely group and it’s quite a rare event for Geoff to enter this competition category. This is because he now specialises in a few favourite genera and seldom has the variety of flower needed for this class. Happily, this was not the case this time.

Three small pans of rock plants

Don Peace won the class for three pans of rock plants, grouping the Arcterica I photographed last week with Dionysia sarvestanica and Corydalis ‘Lentun Rouge,’ his own hybrid.

Flower Arrangements

In the flower arrangement class, Ben and Paddy Parmee, who have been almost unopposed this year, had competition from David Carver.  David is a new young exhibitor this season, who had travelled all the way from Yelverton near Plymouth.  His arrangement was composed almost entirely of shrubs, mainly Daphne.  I was delighted to see him win the class.

Jim and I were keen to get started with the photography.  The profusion of plants meant that our day would be a long and busy one.  The judges had awarded six (six!) Certificates of Merit, so there were lots of heavy award plants to photograph.  Usually there are only two or three.

On top of that there was a long list of plants submitted for the consideration of the Joint Rock Garden Committee, who give RHS awards to choice plants.  We have to photograph all of these.  For more information about the JRGC awards, see here.

The official show reporter’s list, when we eventually got it, listed fifteen different plants.  Fortunately many of them had already appeared on one of the other lists or we’d have been there all day and all night too!

And none of these lists included many of the miniature daffodils, which were the plants I really wanted to photograph.  Anne Wright exhibited some wonderful pans of dancing sunshine.


In the Intermediate section, one exhibitor placed several entries of Polyanthus-type Primula.  These were beautifully grown plants.

Unfortunately, there is a show rule which excludes ‘over-selected’ forms of plants, such as Show Auriculas or Florists’ Cyclamen.  This meant that these beautiful plants were unable to be judged on the day. I suspect the exhibitor felt discouraged, which is a shame as they’d done a marvellous job growing the plants.

I do hope they don’t take it too much to heart and that we get to see more plants from them in the future.

We all get it wrong!

This reminded me of my own initiation into showing, back in 2001.  Tentatively, I entered some photographic prints into the artistic competition at the South West Show.  Unfortunately, I was confused by the layout of the boards, and put my pictures in the wrong classes.  Consequently the judges ruled nearly all my entries to be ‘not according to schedule’.  I was mortified.

However, the charming Michael Upward, who had been judging, sought me out and encouraged me gently to enter my prints at the next show.  As a result, instead of abandoning my attempts to exhibit, I tried again, and won the annual aggregate for the artistic section for most of the next 14 years.

Let this be a word of encouragement for any of you who have had similar hiccups at shows. Please do approach the show secretary or other AGS members for some friendly advice at shows if you’re unsure.

Primula megasaefolia

Neil Tyers entered this fine specimen of Primula megasaefolia in the Novice Section.

Primula ‘Pink Aire’

In the adjacent class, Neil entered an attractive little plant of P. ‘Pink Aire.’  These two plants helped him win the Beacon Trophy for the Novice section aggregate (that is, Neil had the most first place plants in all the competition categories in that section).

Primula forbesii

Young Alex O’Sullivan took the Outwoods Trophy for the Intermediate section (that is, he had the most first place plants in all the categories in that section).  His plants included this lovely pan of Primula forbesii.

Primula classes

As noted above, there was a wonderful array of small pans of Primula allionii.  I wish I’d had time to photograph them all; after shows like this I always regret the ones that got away.

Primula allionii BB03/4/2

This seedling from Brian Burrow had a charming freshness about it.

Primula allionii BB09/48/15

Another of Brian’s seedlings, exhibited this time by Robert Rolfe, also caught my eye.

Primula allionii ‘Charlotte’

Ian Kidman exhibited this pretty little plant.  I’m interested in its origin – I wonder whether it’s a long-lost selection from my stepfather David Philbey, who named a seedling ‘Charlotte’ in 2005 or 2006.  David always distributed cuttings of his best seedlings to the other primula growers, so it is quite possible that Ian received a plant of it back then.  Many of David’s plants were lost during his problems with insecticide-resistant root aphis, which he has discussed in The Alpine Gardener.

I will add a note from an email sent to me about this from Dave Riley.  “About 2007 at the spring Loughborough show whilst in conversation with Brian Burrow and David and exchanging plants, David gave me an allionii which I failed to look at the label.  The following spring my granddaughter was born and named Charlotte! It was only then that I looked closely at the label to see with delight the plant was named Charlotte. I still have a plant and I have seen it advertised for sale by Peninsula Primulas whom David told me he had supplied plants to, and looking at their web-site they carry many of David’s raisings.”

So it seems that this is quite likely to be David’s seedling.  I would add that Peninsula Primulas also list my namesake, Primula “Jonathan”, which I thought was lost.

Primula x. meridiana ‘Miniera’

This is an old, old clone of the hybrid between Primula allionii and Primula marginata, exhibited by Peter Hood.

Primula allionii ‘Francis Burrow’

Brian Burrow’s large pan of this seedling won a deserved Certificate of Merit.  What a fantastic plant!

Primula allionii ‘Crusader’

Frank and Barbara Hoyle’s entry in the class for three large pans of Primula allionii yielded two Certificates of Merit.  The first went to this plant of P. allionii ‘Crusader’.

Primula allionii ‘Eureka’

Frank and Barbara Hoyle won a second Certificate of Merit for this lovely pan of P. allionii ‘Eureka’.  It is a long time since I have seen it in such good condition.

Dionysia aretioides x. teucrioides

Sticking with Primulaceae, we turn now to Dionysia.  David Charlton received a Preliminary Commendation from the Joint Rock Garden Committee (JRGC) for this hybrid.

David purchased the plant as a rooted cutting at an AGS plant sales table; the label had the seedling number ‘PN-HK 97-2’.  This indicates that the original seedling was raised by Pat Nicholls (PN) from seed received from Hans Kaupert (HK) in 1997.  There was some surprise to see Hans as the source of the seed, though he regularly appears as a raiser of Michael Kammerlander seed.  After the show Paul Ranson realised that at some point this might well be a corruption of MK (Michael Kammerlander) via a faint or blurry label.  That would make a lot more sense.

For the Preliminary Commendation the plant has to be named, and the name is normally chosen by the original raiser.  In this case, I believe that Pat Nicholls has suggested the name ‘Evie Jane Nicholls’ after one of his grand-daughters.

Dionysia bryoides

Mark Childerhouse exhibited a fine specimen of this tricky species, seldom grown to any great size.  The only plants I have seen much bigger than this were all grown by Derek Pickard, who seems to have a way with them.

Dionysia zagrica CIA213(TBG3)

Paul and Gill Ranson exhibited this little plant of the relatively new and tricky D. zagrica.  This is about as big as I have ever seen it.  Although discovered in the 70s, it was only introduced into cultivation around 20 years ago.  This clone was collected from the wild in Iran in 2016, by an expedition from Tübingen Botanical Garden.  I was surprised to see this collection number (CIA213) identified as D. zagrica – I thought it had been reidentified as D. khuzistanica.

For more information about Dionysia and all the other genera shown here see the AGS online Encyclopaedia.  Paul Ranson has contributed a huge amount of detailed information to the Dionysia section there.  There is even a fairly comprehensive listing of the Dionysia hybrids grown in this country, giving their origin, and parentage where known.

Dionysia freitagii

For as long as I have been coming to the Loughborough show, Derek Pickard has been exhibiting seedlings of Dionysia freitagii.  He specialises in this species, and seems to be trying to produce a strain of red, rather than pink, seedlings.  This plant is well on the way.

Dionysia ‘Charlson Thomas’

John Bunn exhibited a lovely creamy Dionysia hybrid.  Bob Watson produced this cultivar originally by crossing D. ‘Annielle’ with D. archibaldiiD. ‘Annielle’ is pale yellow, and D. archibaldii is purple – you never know what you will get when the genes get mixed together.

Dionysia tapetodes ‘Kate’ JRD92/2/4

Paul and Gill Ranson’s plant of Dionysia ‘Kate’ continued its winning ways.  Last week it won a Certificate of Merit at Theydon Bois.

Dionysia are native to the Iranian mountains, meaning they’re partial to cool conditions, and the flowers go over quite quickly in warm conditions. I suspect this plant may have spent the week in the fridge, managed carefully, for it was still in fine condition here, and won the 90th Anniversary Award and the Richard Regan Trophy, both for the best plant in a 19cm pot.  Of course, there is a risk here.  I have seen flowers looking quite peculiar after a week of suspended animation.

Dionysia aretioides

At last I have reached that huge dome of butter yellow.  This is Dionysia aretioides, exhibited by Frank and Barbara Hoyle.  It made a compelling case for the Farrer medal (best plant in the show).  The pot size limit for the large pan section of the Open section is 36cm diameter.  I am sure that neither this nor the large saxifrage shown below breached this – the judges will have checked.  But equally, they will never be potted on (in any case Dionysia resent root disturbance), and eventually they will decline without new soil to nourish them.  The picture taken by Don Peace of Frank with his plant shows just how big it really is.

Normally, we carry the individual plants from the show bench to our photography table.  Jim has a bad back, so the big pots are all mine.  This one was so big, however, that common sense ruled the day.  Jim and I took a sheet of background card across the hall to take this photo in situ on the bench.  What you can’t see from the photo is Paul Ranson, straining at arms’ length to hold up the background behind the plant.  Thank you Paul!

Soldanella montana

Just a couple more pans of Primulaceae to show you.  Soldanella species always make charming photos.  Brenda Nickels exhibited this one. She has clearly managed to keep the slugs away – they usually eat the buds during the winter before you ever see them.

Cyclamen coum

There were two fine cyclamen in Geoff Rollinson’s small six pan entry.  This one won the Webster Trophy for the best plant native to Europe. The trophy itself was donated by former show secretaries Eric and Doreen Webster.

Saxifraga ‘Coolock Gem’

This huge mound won yet another Certificate of Merit for Frank and Barbara Hoyle.  This was the other plant Jim and I decided to photograph in situ (aka we chickened out!).  In a full pot rather than a half pot, it would be even heavier than the Dionysia.  So thanks again to Paul Ranson.

Saxifraga ‘Bridget’

The competition for the saxifrage classes was fierce.  David Charlton was runner-up to Frank with this pan of ‘Bridget’.

Saxifraga ‘Mary Golds’

This is just one of Mark Childerhouse’s fine three pan exhibit of Saxifraga.  On a less busy day, I would have photographed all three.

Hepatica japonica

There were a few Hepatica I couldn’t resist, including this one from Bob Worsley.

Hepatica japonica ‘Isari Bi’

I photographed this plant last year (probably at this show), but I had to do it again – Bob grows it so well.

Hepatica japonica ‘Tamakujaku’

This was a slightly more restrained cultivar from Diane Clement.

Hepatica pubescens

Finally, my absolute favourite Hepatica.  Bob gets it covered in flowers, whereas I have never succeeded in growing it, but I always photograph it if I get an opportunity.

Celmisia semicordata ‘David Shackleton’

We seldom see Celmisia in Southern England.  They need cool damp conditions to survive, let alone to thrive like this.

This plant came from Ireland on the ferry with Billy Moore. Billy was awarded a Cultural Commendation by the JRGC for it.

Acacia dealbata

In one of the classes in the large pan part of the Open section, I found this Acacia exhibited by Barry Winter.

It appears to have been pruned rather dramatically to produce these flowering side-shoots, which suggested to me that it is not a small shrub when left to its own devices.  So I checked on the internet, which gives an ultimate height of 8-12m.

Pieris japonica ‘William Buchanan’

The pick of the flowering shrubs was this lovely Pieris from Eric Jarrett.

Leontice minor

Bob and Rannveig Wallis received a Preliminary Commendation from JRGC for this plant.  They are tuberous rooted perennials from the desert areas of the Middle East, and require extremely well-drained conditions.

I’ve always rather liked them, and have tried several times to grow them from seed. Not one seed has germinated, though!

Pleione ‘Riah Shan’

I couldn’t resist photographing my favourite Pleione again.  Steve Clements exhibited this little pan as well as the big pan which won a Certificate of Merit at Pershore. I find the smaller plant much more photogenic.

Habenaria tridactylites

Having read my report on the Theydon Bois show, Steve Clements brought this again so I could have another go at capturing the photo I wanted. Thank you Steve. This is it.

I expect you are all underwhelmed, but I felt I had finally done the plant justice.  This angle, with the top two flowers pointing to either side, made all the difference.

Dactylorhiza romana

Barry Tattersall exhibited these little Dactylorhiza.  They looked nice and fresh, just coming into bloom.

Corydalis darwasica

Here are two good pans of C. darwasica.  George Elder exhibited the second, and won a Certificate of Merit.

Scilla cilicica

Bob and Rannveig Wallis received an Award of Merit from the JRGC for this Scilla.

Scilla greihuberi

This Scilla from Anne Wright is rather similar, and made a rather pleasing picture.

Fritillaria ariana

This pan of F. ariana seedlings from George Elder were an excellent strong pink colour.

Fritillaria bucharica

I was pleased to photograph this tall vigorous form of F. bucharica from George Elder.

For years, it has been confused with the plant from Pulkahim, which has now been published as F. baisunensis.  I suspect many of my photos of F. bucharica should now be renamed.

Fritillaria aurea

F. aurea is always lovely, and difficult to photograph with its bells close to the surface of the pot. John Dixon grew this panful.

Iris nusairiensis x. aucheri

Last year at this show, Frank and Barbara Hoyle won the Farrer medal with a plant labelled Iris nusairiensis which was subsequently deemed to be this hybrid.  This is Bob and Rannveig’s (smaller) pan of the same thing.

Iris nusairiensis x aucheri ‘Olof’ AS clone 3

Jim Almond exhibited a very different form of this cross, made by Arne Seisums using the selected deep blue Iris aucheri cultivar ‘Olof’.

Iris rodionenkoi

In the New and Rare classes, Bob and Rannveig Wallis exhibited this recently described little relative of Iris narbutii.

Crocus biflorus subsp pulchricolor

I have only photographed this Crocus once before – I always love the deep outer colour and pale centres.  Eric Jarrett’s pan was the best I had ever seen it.

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Wandering Minstrel’

This charming little plant was not in the show, but a kind gift to me from Tony Hollingworth.

Gagea peduncularis

Bob and Rannveig Wallis exhibit Gagea species regularly.  I love the yellow flowers, but have never succeeded with them myself.

Tecophilaea cyanocrocus

This is the fabled Chilean blue crocus.  Of course it is not a crocus at all.  This pan won Bob and Rannveig Wallis the American Trophy for the best plant from the Americas.

Long thought to be extinct in the wild, it was rediscovered not many years ago in new locations above Santiago, and I have recently seen pictures of thriving, and quite variable, wild populations.

Galanthus ‘Polar Bear’

Michael Wilson exhibited this curious snowdrop, which was holding its flowers out horizontally instead of letting them hang like bells.

Galanthus seedling AW3856

Anne Wright exhibited this lovely virescent snowdrop seedling.


Even though there were plenty of winning plants here, it will be the Narcissus that I remember from this show.  There were some beautiful little hybrids about.  So, for now, forget the Dionysia, the Primula allionii and the Saxifraga – this is the Anne Wright collection.  Thank you Anne, for bringing all your babies.

Narcissus hedreanthus subsp luteolentus

Anne exhibited several pans of Narcissus species, but I photographed just this one.

Narcissus ‘Coo’

The judges awarded Anne a Certificate of Merit for this plant – one we have seen before at this show.

Oops – I had forgotten that this is a plant raised at Glenbrook Farm in Tasmania, and not one of Anne’s seedlings.

Narcissus ‘Deryn’

This bicolor was a new cultivar for me from Anne. It looks as though it may have N. ‘Snipe’ or N. ‘Mitzy’ in its parentage.  Both are bicolors with a long trumpet or corona, with swept back petals (tepals ?).  These characteristics both come originally from N. cyclamineus.

Narcissus ‘Dormouse’

This was my favourite plant in the entire show.  I loved the stubby little trumpets.  But there were so many of Anne’s seedlings to choose from.

Narcissus AW3762-1-17

This seedling is a cross created by Anne between ‘Snipe’ and ‘Candlepower’.

Narcissus ‘Little Dryad’

This is another creamy hybrid from Anne, with the long trumpet and swept-back petals showing the influence of N. cyclamineus.

Narcissus ‘Minionette’

This larger pan from Anne won the Royal Bank of Scotland Award for the best pan of bulbs in the show, and a Preliminary Commendation from JRGC.

It caused all sorts of problems because people could not record its name correctly.  Apparently Anne needs minions.  I saw the name written as ‘Mignonette’ (without the pun) and as ‘Marionette’, but to my knowledge this is the correct spelling.

Narcissus ‘Lemon Breeze’

Anne had two pans of this little trumpet seedling in the show.  Put them together and you would have another award-winner.

Narcissus ‘Mitimoto’

Anne has been collecting miniature daffs for a long time.  This beautiful hoop petticoat is another raised by Rod Barwick in Tasmania.  I love the fresh, lemony colour.

Narcissus obesus x cantabricus petunioides AW4216

This was another beautiful hybrid raised by Anne.  Like white moths around a candle.

Narcissus ‘Palomina’

Here is another very fine bicolored seedling, again raised by Anne.

Narcissus ‘Trumpet Voluntary’

Michael Myers exhibited this, but I include it here because it is another of Anne Wright’s hybrids.  I remember everyone getting very excited about it at the Kendal Show in 2015, when I saw it for the first time.

Narcissus ‘Whippet’

Last week I showed you Andrew Ward’s little pot of this Anne Wright seedling.  Here is Anne’s own pan of this tiny trumpet.

Narcissus x fosteri

This is the published name for wild hybrids between Narcissus bulbocodium and Narcissus triandrus.  In this case, N. bulbocodium subsp bulbocodium was crossed with N. triandrus concolor JA253.  Anne notes that this hybrid was produced by James Akers, not be herself.

Narcissus rupicola x. ‘Second Fiddle’ AW2990-2

However, this is the plant everyone fell in love with.  Again a hybrid raised by Anne, it received a Preliminary Commendation from the JRGC, subject to naming.  When people asked me “Have you taken a picture of that daffodil?”, this is the one they meant.

It was a long drive up to the Loughborough Flower Show for me.  And a long drive down for exhibitors coming from other directions.  But together the exhibitors produced a wonderful display of plants.  There are always plenty of nurseries here and I think they did a flourishing trade.

Well Done Everyone

So thanks to Martin Rogerson and Neil Hubbard for running the flower show, and to all their big team of helpers for setting it up, selling cakes and plants and manning the door, stewarding and everything else they managed so efficiently.  Finally, my personal thanks to Kit Strange, who brought me two cups of tea at a point when they were needed desperately.

I won’t be at the Kendal show next weekend because it’s too far for me to travel for the day.  But I may have some pictures from another trip that weekend, if the weather cooperates.  I should be at Rosemoor the following weekend, so I’ll look forward to seeing many 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