Harlow was quite a relaxed show for me – Doug Joyce carried most of the heavy plants. First impressions of the Loughborough show were everything I had expected, and feared – benches creaking with huge pots, at least six of which looked to be a challenge to carry, and to make matters worse, my companion photographer Jim Almond was delighted to tell me he had a bad back.
It transpired that he was reluctant to handle anything over about a 6in pot, so I ended up carrying nearly everything. But before all that, as soon as judging started, I was walking round the show benches taking views of the show (always popular with show secretaries).
The corner I started at housed a wonderful three-pan exhibit of Corydalis from Don Peace.
The next section of bench was crowded with large yellow mounds of Dionysia. The D. tapetodes which I had been reluctant to carry at Harlow is the largest of the three-pan exhibit from John Dixon in the foreground (D. tapetodes, D. tapetodes ‘Brimstone’, D. tapetodes ‘Kate’), all dwarfed by an enormous D. aretioides from Frank and Barbara Hoyle behind them.
Moving further down the bench, I came to Brian and Shelagh Smethurst’s large six-pan exhibit of Hepatica, winning the AGS Sewell Medal.
The Primula classes were full of perfect magenta, pink and white domes. I was particularly taken by a three-pan exhibit by Ian Kidman.
The tall lilac coloured bulb in that last view is Geissorhiza inaequalis, exhibited by George Elder.
As in previous weeks, I took this opportunity to capture some of the larger and more spectacular pans in situ.
There was a small six-pan class as well as a large one. This was won by Don Peace, which no doubt helped him towards the Charnwood Forest Trophy for the Open section aggregate.
By now most of the classes had been judged and stewarded and, given the number of plants on display, I asked permission to move and photograph exhibits which hadn’t been placed (or in some cases, which were third in their class). This Fritillaria from George Elder is one which for some reason I have never photographed, despite its charming butterscotch-coloured flowers, so it will fill a gap in my exhibit of Fritillaria prints.
Another Fritillaria I haven’t photographed much, here exhibited by Bob and Rannveig Wallis. I liked the varying forms. Back in the early 2000s, I remember Kath Dryden exhibiting a pan of the lovely pale yellow form.
A double-flowered seedling of Trillium rivale from Brian Burrow, with nice marbled leaves.
A charming, short, upward facing clone of Narcissus cantabricus, from Ivor Betteridge.
Always a photographer’s favourite, from Mavis and Sam Lloyd.
A lovely little Gagea species from Neil Hubbard. Neil was bemoaning the fact that they don’t grow as compact in cultivation as they do in the wild.
I took this plant exhibited by Ian Instone because again it is something I have never photographed, and because I rather prefer the ‘normal’ form to the variegated form ‘Thor’.
This Corydalis hybrid between C. malkensis and C. solida was raised and exhibited by Don Peace. I don’t know whether it has ever appeared before, and opinions were divided about its rather gaudy charms, but everyone agreed that its name was wonderfully appropriate.
Another Corydalis raised and exhibited by Don Peace. This time one of the brightest red forms of C. solida I have ever seen.
Kit Strange exhibited this pan of the old cultivated clone of Iris aucheri. A lovely colour.
Jim Almond exhibited this hybrid; clone 4 of a series of hybrids raised by Arnis Seisums.
Frank and Barbara Hoyle exhibited this, winning both the Royal Bank of the Scotland Award for the best pan of bulbs in the show and the Farrer Medal. There was a lot of discussion about its identity, and several pundits thought that it was probably a hybrid with I. aucheri, but whatever we should call it, it was a magnificent plant.
This was one of the pots I saw when I arrived and was concerned about carrying without damaging it, so I was relieved when Don Peace got Frank Hoyle to move it himself, so he could be photographed with it (see Twitter), and then to bring it over to me for its portrait shots.
The first of the heavy pots which I fetched and carried myself (heavy but manageable), was this pan of crocuses from Vic and Janet Aspland, which won the Webster Trophy for the best plant native to Europe.
Last year, this won the Farrer Medal at the Kendal show, but on a bitterly cold day (the show closed early for snow) the flowers were only open fleetingly during judging, having spent the previous hour in front of the car heater on full-blast. This year, although there were perhaps some gaps, the flowers stayed open for everyone to appreciate.
Feeling surprisingly spritely after the crocus, I moved straight to this huge bucket of Trillium nivale from Alan Spenceley. This won the American Trophy (unsurprisingly) for the best plant native to the Americas.
By now, I needed a break from the big pots, and I badly wanted to photograph this South African bulb from George Elder while it was still in pristine condition. It didn’t make much impact with the judges – it is a little untidy for them, and they always have concerns about hardiness, but I have been watching George exhibit it for several years, slowly increasing, and this year’s flowering was fantastic – much better than I have ever seen it before.
Another unusual Fritillaria to add to my exhibit. This is a deliberate hybrid by Don Peace between the F. aurea x pinardii hybrid he grows and exhibits regularly, and F. carica.
We see regularly very short compact forms of F. bucharica on the show bench, so, for once, it was nice to see the regular, tall form exhibited by George Elder.
This plant was exhibited by John Kemp, travelling all the way from Kent courtesy of Mike Chadwick and Nigel Fuller who drove up, this year arriving in time to stage their entries (last year they were delayed by an accident on the M25, and didn’t make it to the show until after judging had started).
Another charming exhibit from Vic and Janet Aspland.
This was another plant from Bob and Rannveig Wallis, which I need better pictures of for my exhibit. I was particularly pleased to find the specimen with marbled flowers instead of the usual chocolate brown.
A small pot of F. michaelovskyi from Brenda Nickels in the Intermediate Section which yielded some excellent close-ups.
Next another big one – a large and awkward pan of F. gibbosa, again from John Kemp in Kent, which won a Certificate of Merit. I carried and photographed it and all was well, but then disaster struck.
As I bent to lift it again, one side of my grey background fell off the back of the table I was using, leaving the remainder to pivot forwards and land on top of the plant. I was mortified; more than anything else I strive to avoid damage to the plants I handle. Fortunately, no stems were broken but several had a pronounced forward lean. I was not consoled by the other exhibitors’ relaxed response – “It’s a bulb – it’ll be fine”, and I hope big John will forgive me for this accident.
I photographed this plant, from David Carridge, because it was so untypical of what I am used to seeing under this name (or I. sellowianum), that I wasn’t completely convinced of its identity. Having examined it further, I came to the conclusion that it was simply that the leaves are longer than usual when exhibited and the flowers are relaxed and reflected, whether from age or from the heat of the hall.
By far the most coveted plant in the whole hall was this Narcissus bulbocodium from Paddy Smith in Ireland, which had huge hoops 6cm across. My thumb has crept into one of the pictures again to provide an idea of scale.
I am used to Nigel Fuller exhibiting a huge pan of N. watieri at the Kent show. Here, he brought a much smaller 19cm pot of this lovely daffodil, perhaps because of the difficulties of transporting the big pot all this way.
This is a familiar garden plant but it also makes a fantastic exhibit when grown as well as this by Eric Jarrett.
Exhibited as Scilla x. allenii ‘Fra Angelico’ by Don Peace, this is actually normally considered a hybrid between Scilla bifolia and Chionodoxa siehei, and is given the generic name x. Chionoscilla. Whatever the name, I think it is a lovely thing.
A small pan of this tiny moist woodland bulb from California and Oregon, exhibited by Bob Worsley. I grew it for a long time in the garden (despite the slugs), but one hot summer it succumbed.
The Outwoods Trophy for the Intermediate Section aggregate went to Ben and Paddy Parmee. Their plants included this curious and striking snowdrop. It felt most peculiar being able to photograph it from this angle (last close-up).
Ben and Paddy Parmee also brought this pan of S. canadensis, with the barest hint of pink.
One class which Ben and Paddy Parmee enter regularly in the Open section is the flower arrangement, and they were successful here with this graceful entry.
This was the one pot I was quite determined not to carry. This Dionysia aretioides won a Certificate of Merit for Frank and Barbara Hoyle. I photographed it in situ on the show bench, with the grey background suspended by the long arms of Tim Lever; I was fortunate the light was so good in the hall.
Another Certificate of Merit, this time for John Dixon, to make a pair with the one it won last week at Harlow. Having carried and photographed this plant there, I knew I could manage it without too much difficulty.
Mark Childerhouse staged an excellent three-pan exhibit of Dionysia, including this wonderfully well-flowered plant of the seldom exhibited D. revoluta subsp. revoluta, which won the Richard Regan Trophy for the best plant in a 19cm pot.
From the same three-pan exhibit by Mark Childerhouse comes this lovely form of D. esfandiarii. I photographed it from a low angle to try to capture the flowers and minimise the exposure of its shiny pate.
An immaculate specimen of the lovely white hybrid D. ‘Geist’, from Nigel Fuller.
The very blue f2 hybrid ex D. ‘Nan Watson’, exhibited by Paul and Gill Ranson.
I haven’t photographed it so far this year, so here is the new and rare D. oreodoxa, exhibited by Paul and Gill Ranson.
Moving on now to the Primula classes, the hybrid ‘Ellen Page’, here exhibited by Ian Kidman, is always one of my favourites, with a narrow gold rim to the petals. I don’t think the colour is quite right but it is always difficult with these purple/magenta clones.
A P. allionii seedling raised and exhibited by Brian Burrow.
An old favourite, beautifully grown by Don Peace.
Always a lovely plant, this hybrid was exhibited by Nigel Fuller.
A lovely new seedling raised and exhibited by Nigel Fuller, from seed from P. ‘Jenny Bourne’.
I photographed a tiny plant of this difficult Primula last year at the Kent Show. This year, Ian Kidman’s plant was quite a lot larger. I was told there were two in the show but I didn’t find the other to compare them.
A Primula I photographed many times last year, as it has a very long flowering period. This was exhibited by Ben and Paddy Parmee in the Intermediate Section.
Finally, a wonderfully well-flowered primrose exhibited in the Novice section by Gavin Sowerby.
This was my pick of the Cyclamen in the show, from Har Gilou in Israel at 2625ft, exhibited by Vic and Janet Aspland.
Clare Oates received a Certificate of Merit for this beautiful white Hepatica.
Now a soft lilac one from Bob Worsley.
For some strange reason this fine plant of H. maxima from Roy Skidmore was only second in its class.
We see a lot of very expensive, selected Japanese clones of Hepatica at the shows, both on the sales stands and on the benches, but for me, and for the exhibitor Chris Lilley, this £4.00 seedling with striking indigo blue flowers is easily their match.
The Beacon Trophy for the Novice section aggregate went to Steve Clements, whose plants included some fine orchids.
The UK native Early Spider Orchid, again exhibited by Steve Clements.
A European species familiar on the show benches, here exhibited by Barry Tattersall.
Finally, a lovely white form of the Naked Man Orchid, Orchis italica, exhibited again by Barry Tattersall.
Well, that’s it. In the end I carried, photographed and returned 47 plants, but my back stood up to it surprisingly well and although my hip was complaining, it always does when I have been on my feet all day.
Huge thanks to Jim Almond for making the day entertaining, to Kit Strange in particular, who kindly decided to make sure I never ran out of tea, to the exhibitors for bringing such a tremendous array of plants and to show secretaries Neil Hubbard and Martin Rogerson and their army of helpers for staging a magnificent show.
I won’t be at the Kendal Show, so my next pictures will be from Rosemoor on 23 March.
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