Saturday was the first time this season I have had to scrape frost off the car before setting off for the show. Bizarre when you think it is mid-April and I have been going to shows since the middle of February. Still, the sky was soon full of sunshine and the banks of the M40 were covered in swathes of cowslips.
Even before I entered the show hall, it was clear that I was going to have my work cut out. Streams of exhibitors were rushing to and fro with wonderful plants grasped tightly in their arms. Normally, if I manage to photograph sixty odd plants, it feels like I have photographed every plant which was there, or at least everything which won its class, but here it was barely scratching the surface; over 900 plants were entered. I worked for most of the day with Robert Rolfe, who helped to carry some of the pots, and took quite a number of photos on the floor next to the table I was using, in between distractions and long discussions with exhibitors.
After a quick tour of the nursery stands, I arrived back in the main hall just in time for judging to start. I unpacked my gear and set up a ‘studio’ in my usual corner, grabbed a cup of tea and set off to take some views of the hall. The benches in places were creaking with the weight and most groups of judges were deep in debate, rather than making quick and easy decisions. Pairs of stewards were everywhere, Diane Clement up on stage presiding over the hall, glued to the show computer, and her sister Carol Kellett rushing around like a bluebottle. Like me, she was on her feet all day and at the end of the show checked to find she had done nearly 12,000 steps.
In between taking these show views, I tried to take shots of the six-pan entries in situ. Half of the front bench was taken up with three entries for the large six pan class. The largest, and the one which greeted visitors as they entered the hall, was from Tony Hollingworth, featuring six huge pots containing two Trilliums, two Erythroniums, an Anemone and a pan of Fritillaria affinis subsp. tristulis which won a Certificate of Merit – more photos of that later.
The second large six pan entry was from Anne Vale, who we haven’t seen at shows yet this season. Tt was good to see her and Steve again. I did take photos of her tulip (later) but the lovely pan of Anemone x. lipsiensis, the fantastic Sanguinaria canadensis ‘flore pleno’ (which took all day to come out) and the fine plants of Hacquetia epipactis and Cyclamen pseudibericum all escaped me, such was the pressure on my time that day.
The final large six pan entry, which won the AGS Medal, came from Ian Robertson and featured four good Cyclamen, a large pan of Pleione and a nice clump of Fritillaria crassifolia.
The small six pan class again had an entry from Ian Robertson. I took this low angle shot and was just adjusting the tripod to take the group from a higher angle when I found I was in the way of the judges and had to scarper. Although I came back to photograph the other entry, I forgot I hadn’t done the higher angle view of this one.
The second, and winning small six pan entry, was from Don Peace and won him the AGS Medal.
Whilst escaping the judges, and taking a few more shots of the show hall, I remembered there was also an Intermediate six pan class, and set up the tripod to take the only, and winning entry, from Tony Hollingworth. Unfortunately, I had just got everything set up, framed the shot through the view-finder and reached for the shutter release when a pair of stewards wandered into shot in the aisle behind. I didn’t think the image would be improved by including Lance’s bum, so I abandoned the shot and returned to show views and eventually to the small six pan class. Sadly, I never returned to photograph Tony’s six-pan entry, so my apologies to him; in my mind I had ticked it off as done.
The only photograph I have to celebrate Tony Hollingworth’s entry is this one, of one of the plants in it, Fritillaria ‘Lentune Slate’ raised originally by Don Peace.
By now, I was casting about for plants which the judges would have no further interest in – particularly those which were not placed or third in their class. The first I selected was this tiny form of Narcissus rupicola from Brian and Shelagh Smethurst. In the whole show, this was definitely the one I most wanted to take home with me.
I had brought just two plants of my own to the show. Both surprised me by getting seconds when I thought they had no chance but they were still suitable camera fodder at this juncture. This Tropaeolum beuthii has lovely large flowers of a very bright, almost gold shade of yellow. I grew it from SRGC seed sown in January 2006.
Another class which I can photograph without fear once it has been judged (well, a little fear whilst carrying them) is the flower arrangements. Paddy Parmee produced a typical, tidy, colour-coordinated arrangement but this week this was completely upstaged by a magnificent and flamboyant display behind it, from Sue White, who had come up for the day from Hampshire with Robin, in part to see their old friend, show secretary John Harrison.
Eventually, the judges had “deliberated, cogitated and digested” and had reached their final decisions. The first plant I wanted to photograph before the petals fell was under consideration right to the very end and given a Certificate of Merit: Jeffersonia dubia exhibited by Bob Worsley.
When the hall was first opened, it was packed with people and I tried to focus on plants which were near to photography corner. Paul and Gill Ranson staged some interesting things in the class for three pans of new or rare plants.
First an Androsace introduced by Holubec from the Kunlun Shan, China in 2011 and distributed initially as A. bryomorpha. It is not yet clear whether this is A. russellii, which is only known from sites hundreds of kilometres from the Kunlun Shan, or a new species.
Another new introduction from the Kunlun Shan.
The final plant in Paul and Gill’s entry was this Dionysia hybrid, a cutting from a plant raised from seed received from Michael Kammerlander in 2003. The seed parent is an f1 D. microphylla hybrid and whilst it was open pollinated, the flower colour suggests D. involucrata as the seed parent.
Paul and Gill Ranson also won the class for three plants requiring the same conditions in cultivation, for three chasmophytes i.e. crevice-growing plants.
The first of these was Dionysia microphylla, one of my favourite Dionysias. Its entry in the AGS Encyclopaedia says “from North-western Afghanistan, Maymana Province, near Belcheragh in the Darrah Zang gorge, on sunny or semi-shaded, sloping or vertical, limestone rocks, 1200-1400m. One of the most desirable species, but extremely slow-growing and very difficult to propagate. Plants, on the other hand, are relatively trouble-free and plants up to 20 years of age are not unknown. In an average year less than 50% of rosettes flower so it is rare for a full canopy to be achieved. All plants in cultivation are pin-eyed and are derived from the original GW/H1302 collection.”
The second plant in the three-pan exhibit was acclaimed by my co-photographer Robert Rolfe as the finest specimen of this Viola species he had ever seen in cultivation. I think we can deduce from that that it is extremely rare, and distinctly difficult in cultivation. It comes from north-western Iraq, on Gara Dagh, in the upper forest zone, inhabiting south-facing but often shaded limestone crevices.
The final member of the three-pan was a well-grown plant of Primula renifolia. The encyclopaedia says; “A little-seen relative of the primrose from the NW Caucasus. Not easy in cultivation although very desirable and probably not grown in the west in 2016”. However, in the last couple of years, seedlings have been appearing on the show bench (I think from one of the Scottish nurseries) and some of the plants at least are surviving and increasing in size.
Don Peace was happy to leave most of the show photography to me but he likes to take a photo of the Farrer-medal winning exhibitor, in this case Ian Kidman, with their plant and post it on Twitter. Since I hate taking those shots, this is an arrangement which is fine with me. However, the winner this time was distinctly substantial (the plant that is) and stuck out quite a way over the rim of its pot, so we wanted to carry it as little as possible. So first a shot taken in situ on the show bench (in case of disaster) and then a couple taken just after Don had got the shot he wanted. This superb plant won both the Edinburgh Quaich for the best Ericaceous plant in the Show and the Farrer Medal for the best plant in the show.
Ian Kidman came very close to winning ‘the double’; this much smaller, slower and much more portable clone of Cassiope lycopodioides nearly won the Midland Challenge Cup for the best plant in a 19cm pot, and was awarded a Certificate of Merit.
Lionel Clarkson exhibited this pan of Cassiope wardii. Possibly it was slightly past its best but still a very fine plant and I wasn’t there last week.
John Savage is always exhibiting charming small shrubs which I have never photographed before. This time it was this pretty Diosma, also known as Coleonema pulchrum ‘Sunset Gold’, with feathery golden foliage covered in pale pink flowers.
The second plant I brought to the show was this Daphne, which somehow persists in my greenhouse despite the conditions (most of the plants in there are South African bulbs).
As Robin and Sue White were at the show, it was fitting that there was an entry in the class for three small Daphnes, from Martin and Anna Sheader, to win the Blackthorn Trophy they donated for the winners of this class. Here are Daphne sericea, Daphne modesta and Daphne petraea ‘The Beacon’, though Robin questioned the identity of the D. sericea and thought it might be a D. x. hendersonii. I didn’t hear the outcome of that conversation.
Robin White brought some of his own Daphnes to the show. This is his plant of D. petraea ‘The Beacon’.
Another Daphne from Robin White. This time, one I have never photographed; D. circassica.
This is a plant I have photographed in Robin White’s alpine house but very rare in cultivation and awarded a Certificate of Merit.
The last Daphne from Robin White is one I first photographed in his alpine house in 2012, when it and several siblings were about the size of a cricket ball. It has grown since then, and on Saturday it won the Midland Challenge Cup for the best plant in a 19cm pot.
Sticking with shrubs for a minute, the Solihull show is usually the first to have lots of rhododendrons on the bench, and this was no exception. One of my favourites is always this one from Dave Mountfort.
I also liked this smaller but rather select plant from Diane Clement.
Back to the list of award winners (as if you could have stopped me photographing this, however it was judged), this fabulous orchid was exhibited by Steve Clements in the Novice Section and won both the Donald Lowndes Memorial Bowl for the best plant in the section and a Certificate of Merit.
The Perry Cup for the Novice Section aggregate went to Ian Sutton, who had several Lewisias on the bench.
I thought this little plant from Peter Farkasch was a lovely form of L. brachycalyx. The Roy Elliott Memorial Salver for the best Lewisia in the show went to Jim McGregor for this larger plant, still to open fully.
The Albury Trophy for the Intermediate section aggregate went to Lesley Travis. This saxifrage is from her winning exhibit of three pans of rock plants.
Also from the Intermediate section, this lovely blue form of Iris lutescens from Andrew Ward.
The Crataegus Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate section went to Ben and Paddy Parmee for this beautiful pan of daffodils. I wondered why it was classified as N. jonquilla, until I picked it up and smelt the wonderful scent.
A Narcissus species which is distinctly uncommon in cultivation, from Ian Robertson.
This Narcissus triandrus hybrid raised by Rannveig Wallis and named for her sister was once a familiar show plant but it has become distinctly less common in recent years. Many growers have lost most or all of their stock. George Elder still grows it beautifully.
Probably not to all the judges’ taste but this tulip cultivar from Anne Vale’s six pan provided a welcome splash of bright colour. I should have photographed it back-lit but it was too early in the day for that – later the sun moves round, and roasts me on a warm day.
Barry Tattersall has grown this plant for many years – I have photographed it several times – and it seems to get better every year. It is not quite native to the UK but occurs in Jersey (or is that part of the UK?), hence its common name – the Jersey Orchid. Here it won a Certificate of Merit.
Now a plant which will be familiar to those who know our native wildflowers, the Green-winged Orchid, again grown by Barry Tattersall. When I used to help at the Malvern Show in early May, I would visit and photograph it on the village green at Welland.
At the last show I went to, at Rosemoor three weeks ago, I was pleased to see some seed-grown F. recurva and photographed them. Here there was another pot, grown by Brian Burrow from seed sown in 2013.
It is always a pleasure to see this slightly buff yellow hybrid Don Peace made between F. aurea and F. pinardii.
F. liliacea is a plant we used to see large pots of 10-20 years ago, but it seldom appears on the show bench nowadays, so it was good to see a pot exhibited by Bob Worsley, even if it only had one flower spike in it.
This pan of F. olivieri exhibited by Jim McGregor is an old friend which I have photographed several times before.
It was interesting to see this plant raised from seed by Ian Robertson as F. affinis. This is very similar to the plant named and distributed as F. ‘Craigton Cascade’ by Ian Young, believed to be a hybrid between F. affinis and F. recurva.
This is the huge pan of Fritillaria in Tony Hollingworth’s large six pan entry, which was awarded a Certificate of Merit. The dark, yellow edged flowers always make good pictures.
This is a plant I saw first thing in the morning and wanted to photograph all day. It is a cultivar raised, I believe, by Margaret and Henry Taylor in Scotland but exhibited here by Peter Farkasch.
Chris Lilley exhibited two pans of the lovely single form of Ranunculus montanus, like a miniature Marsh Marigold.
This is the central plant from a wonderfully colour-coordinated entry in the large three pans of rock plants class from Martin and Anna Sheader, who combined it with the yellow Daphne modesta (see above) and Rosenia humilis (see below).
The South African Rosenia humilis exhibited by George Elder.
Eric Jarrett showed a lovely plant of this Veronica. It is always hard to capture the full effect in a photograph.
This strange warty lump is a Euphorbia exhibited by David Charlton. Unfortunately, the pot was full of volcanic cinders and distinctly heavy.
This little Edelweiss exhibited by Brenda Nickels was pleasingly straightforward to photograph. It seems familiar but I have never photographed it before.
The Leschallas Cup for the Open Section aggregate went to Don Peace. He had at least two perfect domes of Androsace vandellii on the bench.
One of my favourite Androsace, from Ivan Pinnick.
One of many large pans of Cyclamen exhibited by Ian Robertson.
And a small pan, also exhibited by Ian Robertson.
David Richards exhibited a fine plant of D. involucrata. This is the white strain which originated at Gothenburg Botanic Garden.
There were still plenty of European hybrid primulas to be seen. This is Brian Burrow’s hybrid between P. albenensis and P. allionii x. carniolica, which has appeared for several years at this show.
Ian Kidman exhibited this plant, raised by my stepfather David Philbey under the number DPP762-07.
Diane Clement exhibited this, always one of the best blue hybrids. It was raised by Graeme Butler of Rumbling Bridge Nursery in Scotland, as a cross between P. ‘Wharfedale Bluebell’ and P. marginata ‘Linda Pope’.
The Midland Primula Bowl went to Don Peace for this Primula petelotii.
An attractive asiatic hybrid exhibited by Tony Hollingworth in the Intermediate section.
As you approach the end of the show, the sun comes round until it shines straight through the window where I do the photography and you can fix up a sheet of background card so the sun, if there is any, shines over the top of it and backlights the flowers. I was in luck – the patchy clouds drifted away and I was able to take the two plants I had been waiting to photograph backlit. First, this lovely Ramonda from Brian and Shelagh Smethurst.
The last plant I am going to show you is this pan of the double bloodroot from Ron and Hilary Price. It had spent most of the day opening and was in perfect condition.
That’s all I had time for. The cups were being given out and I had to pack up my gear quick so the exhibitors could open both doors of the exit I was working next to. After that, I had a more leisurely gathering of my plants, purchases etc. and a chance, finally, to sit down, whilst waiting for my wife Helen to return from visiting her mother in Nottingham.
My thanks to all the exhibitors for bringing such splendid plants, to Robert Rolfe for helping to carry some of them and to John Harrison and all his team of helpers for working so hard to make the show such a success. It was great to see Janet Aspland back at a show after her recent illness and I am sure we all hope her road to full recovery is a smooth one.
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 email@example.com