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Midland Show 2023

April 30, 2023
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After a gap of four years, an AGS show returned to Knowle near Solihull last Saturday.  I wasn’t certain until the last minute whether I would be able to make it to the Midland Show, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  In the event there were plenty of entries, particularly in the Intermediate and Novice sections.  The visitors who attended saw some great plants, and nursery stalls with all sorts of species for sale.

What happened to the Kent show ?

I missed the Kent Show on 1st April because my car broke down the evening before the show.  No photographers I contacted could stand in for me.  Fortunately, the Show Coordinator sought out Tim Shaw at the show, and asked if he would step in take a few pictures of the award plants.  Although he hadn’t come expecting or equipped to do so (he had to use flash because he didn’t have a tripod with him), he did an excellent job and I would like to thank him for that.

My car is still awaiting repair four weeks later.  I have been borrowing one from my brother, but he needed it himself last week.  So it was only on the Friday evening that I could borrow it again, ready for a 6am start to set off for the show.  As we descended the Chilterns scarp at Aston Rowant, the road was enveloped in thick fog.  Not until Banbury did it lift enough for us to see the cowslips on the banks again.

Entering the Show

I had made a few speculative entries for the show, but as usual nothing worked out as planned.  The warm windy weather last week meant that several good pans of Erythronium came out and went over in a couple of days.  Likewise, the Aloinopsis spathulata in the miniature garden I hoped to take was going over.  My Tropaeolum, smothered in flowers in the greenhouse, were sadly neglected over the winter with my time devoted to other things, and had grown into and over other plants on the show bench.  I could only extricate two of them.  These two T. austropurpureum hybrids, together with T. beuthii and others, had to stay at home.

Before long, we had negotiated the rigours of the motorway network, and arrived at the show while there were still places to park.  In no time I was watching the judges peruse show benches.  These, whilst not heaving with plants the way they did in pre-Covid days, were nevertheless comfortably filled, and the equal of any I have seen this year.  In particular, both the Intermediate and Novice sections saw fierce competition.

Six Large Pans of Rock Plants

Chris Lilley produced a wonderful grouping of six large pans of rock plants to win the AGS Medal in Class 1.  It will be a sad day for the shows if he decides he can no longer manage these large potfuls he grows so well.

Erythronium ‘White Beauty’

I photographed two individual plants from Chris Lilley’s large pan grouping.  First a fine pan of a familiar Erythronium californicum cultivar / hybrid.

Pieris japonica ‘Polar Passion’

My second plant from Chris Lilley’s six pan was this very flamboyant Pieris.  I suspect that not all the judges enjoyed the striking contrast between the variegated foliage and the almost Christmassy red blooms tipped with white.  But it was certainly spectacular, and something I definitely wanted to capture.

Six Pans of Rock Plants in the Intermediate Section

There were no entries in the small six pan class, nor in the class for six pans grown from seed.  However, in the Intermediate section Henry Fletcher won the AGS Award with an exhibit composed of six tidy pans of Trillium.  In the adjacent three pan class, Henry exhibited three more Trillium, including a lovely pan of T. ovatum var. hibbersonii.

Iris ‘Well Suited’

Conscious that they often deteriorate in the heat of the show, I started photographing irises before judging had even finished.  This sumptuous deep blue cultivar came from Bob Worsley.

Iris acutiloba x paradoxa

In the same class, James Watson exhibited a stunning hybrid between I. acutiloba and I. paradoxa.

Iris subbiflora

The winner of the Iris class came from Chris Lilley.  A lovely pan, packed with buds still to come.

Tulipa heweri

My photographic ‘studio’ was close to the exhibits in the Novice section.  Here I could see a fine pan of the orange and yellow Tulipa heweri, exhibited by Sue Miles.

Fritillaria pallidiflora

Nearby, Selwyn Lane won his first first for Fritillaria pallidiflora.

Hepatica x. media ‘Millstream Merlin’

The Perry Cup for the Novice section aggregate went to Christine Jarvis.  Her plants included a little Lewisia tweedyi var. rosea, and a fine plant of Hepatica x. media ‘Millstream Merlin’.

Ranunculus ‘Gowrie’

In the Intermediate section Henry Fletcher exhibited a lovely plant of the charming Ranunculus x. arendsii hybrid, ‘Gowrie’.  This, with the Trillium and other exhibits, won Henry the Albury Trophy for the section aggregate.

Allium hamedanense

This unfamiliar onion hails from the province of Hamedan in Iran.  David Carver exhibited it in the Intermediate section class for a plant new or rare in cultivation.

Narcissus ‘Moonlight Sensation’

Still in the Intermediate section, I found this lovely triandrus daffodil cultivar exhibited by Lesley Travis.

Dicentra cucullaria ‘Carl Gehenio’

Despite all the beautiful plants we have seen so far, the Crataegus Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate section went to Lesley Travis for this fine pan of Dicentra.

Narcissus atlanticus

In the Open section, Vic and Janet Aspland exhibited Narcissus atlanticus, which I photographed in full flower at the Early Spring show at Theydon Bois seven weeks ago.  Now that is a striking difference in culture.

Narcissus ‘Solveig’s Song’

Also in the Open section, but familiar from this show, George Elder exhibited a lovely pan Narcissus ‘Solveig’s Song’.  This is a cultivar which I used to grow well twenty years ago, but have long since lost completely.

Trillium cuneatum

I loved the leaf patterns on this compact pan of Trillium cuneatum from Carol Kellett.

Lachenalia latimerae

South African bulbs also featured, including this Lachenalia from Bob Worsley.

Wurmbea recurva

The near black flowers of this South African bulb from George Elder are not to everyone’s taste, but in bright light they shine deep purple with glowing yellow stamens.  I have always loved it, but have never persuaded seed to germinate.

Gladiolus tristis hybrid

This lovely wine-coloured hybrid of Gladiolus tristis was another of David Carver’s exhibits.

Pelargonium oblongatum x fulgidum

Also from South Africa was this little tuberous-rooted Pelargonium from David Carver.

Miniature gardens

Several people asked me to photograph the miniature gardens.  Unfortunately, they did not remind me about the wonderful exhibit of miniature gardens in the entrance hall, staged by Razvan Chisu.  I was really sorry about that – they were works of art.

So first of all we have a traditional style garden from Carol Kellett, with accessories not permitted.  In the other class, which most AGS judges seem to disapprove of, where accessories are permitted, we had an entry from Anne Vale, featuring an indignant fairy, remonstrating with two drunken dwarves.

Paraquilegia anemonoides

In the class for Ranunculaceae or Paeonaceae, Eric Jarrett exhibited Paraquilegia anemonoides.  It was a pleasure to see it; I haven’t encountered it at a show for several years.

Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Papageno’

The Paraquilegia was just pipped for first place by a fine pan of Pulsatilla from Bob Worsley.

Anemonella thalictroides

In the small pan classes Diane Clement had an intriguing Anemonella cultivar with chocolate coloured flowers with green stamens.  It may have a cultivar name, but it wasn’t on the label.

Astragalus utahensis

David Charlton exhibited a couple of American members of the pea family.  First Astragalus utahensis, which we see occasionally on the show bench.

Oxytropis sericea

David Charlton’s other legume was the white Oxytropis sericea, which I have never seen before.

Lewisia cotyledon hybrid

Peter Farkasch produced a very dramatic Lewisia cotyledon hybrid.  Certainly not a subtle plant, covered in these deep orange and yellow flowers.

Lewisia cotyledon alba

The Roy Elliott Memorial Salver for the best Lewisia went to Brenda Nickels for this rather more refined white form of Lewisia cotyledon.

Rosenia humilis

Moving now to shrubs, George Elder’s beautiful Rosenia humilis was declared not a shrub, but a sub-shrub.

Pieris japonica ‘Sarabande’

Diane Clement exhibited this beautiful white Pieris.

Andromeda polifolia compacta

Steve Clements exhibited this Andromeda.

Clematis ‘Emerald Dream’

This well-flowered little mound-forming clematis came from Brenda Nickels.

Kalmia polifolia ‘Compacta Alba’

Anne Vale exhibited a small plant of one of my favourite shrubs with its beautiful white flowers.

Rhododendron ‘Razorbill’

The Edinburgh Quaich for the best pan of Ericaceae went to Chris Lilley for Rhododendron ‘Razorbill’.  This plant has grown in the shade of my house for over twenty years, and is now over five feet high, and the same across.

Blackthorn Trophy

David Carver brought several Daphne up from Devon with him, and won the Blackthorn Trophy for the small pan class for three pans of Daphne.  These plants are (left to right):

  • Daphne x. susannae ‘Cheriton’
  • Daphne x. jintyae ‘Pink Cascade’
  • Daphne cneorum ‘Blackthorn Triumph’

Daphne sericea

In the large pan Open section class, David received a Certificate of Merit for Daphne sericea.  My own Daphne gemmata ‘Sciringa’ was second, but stood no chance.

Daphne cneorum pygmaea

However, I think everyone’s favourite Daphne was this miniature form of Daphne cneorum, exhibited by Brian Burrow.

Salix nakamurana var. vezoalpina

I think my favourite shrubs at the show were the dwarf willows.  Let’s start with this lovely hairy species exhibited by David Charlton.

Salix x simulatrix

Next we have the tiny Salix x simulatrix (S. arbuscula x S. herbacea) exhibited by Brian Burrow.

Salix reticulata dwarf form

Finally, this is a dwarf form of Salix reticulata, exhibited by Brian Burrow.  I loved the way the shiny leaves reflected the light.

Adiantum venustum

I don’t often have time to photograph ferns, but the new growth on this Adiantum from Bob Worsley was simply stunning.

Flower arrangement

I do, however, always try to photograph the best flower arrangements, as they are so ephemeral.  Anne Vale seems to have been attempting to introduce some new, and perhaps less alpine, material into her arrangements this year, which has given her some new and different colours and shapes to experiment with.

Gentiana verna

I was delighted to see pans of Gentiana verna at the show – I haven’t photographed it at a show for something like ten years, though I have seen plants in the Picos and the Dolomites.  The first plant is from David Harris, the second from Anne Vale.

Saxifraga pubescens subsp. iratiana

This lovely little saxifrage with its jewel-like flowers was exhibited by Mark Childerhouse.

Saxifraga caucasica

The judges awarded a Certificate of Merit to Eric Jarrett for this pan of the curious Saxifraga caucasica.


The season for Androsace is nearly upon us, and there were a number of specimens on the show bench.  Here are Androsace cylindrica x hirtella exhibited by Don Peace, and a large Androsace vandellii exhibited by John Dixon.

Dionysia ‘Alcyone’

By contrast, the time for Dionysia, at least in flower, is nearly past.  The only plants I saw were the late-flowering Dionysia involucrata ‘Gotenborg White’, and this hybrid (D. microphylla x D. involucrata) exhibited by John Dixon.

Dodecatheon pulchellum

Ian Sutton exhibited this Dodecatheon, a genus which we are now supposed to include in Primula, though the flower shape is so distinct.

Primula ‘Broadwell Milkmaid’

In the Intermediate section, Brenda Nickels exhibited this pretty pan of P. ‘Broadwell Milkmaid’ though I seem to remember it did not find favour with the judges.  I suspect they thought the flowers were a bit sparse, since this is a cultivar which can completely cover itself with flowers.  But the extra space meant that the flowers were not crammed together the way they can be, and I thought the result was very attractive.

Primula marginata ‘Late Frost’

In the Open section Peter Farkasch had a fine plant of a white P. marginata cultivar which I have not seen before.

Primula rusbyi

However, the Midland Primula Bowl went to this Primula rusbyi exhibited by Martin Rogerson, who was at the Ulster show that day.  The plant was brought, and the award received, on his behalf, by David Charlton.

Primula albenensis hybrid

For many people, the pick of the primulas at the show were two hybrids produced and exhibited by Brian Burrow.  These were sister seedlings from the same pod, produced by crossing a previous hybrid between P. allionii and P. carniolica with P. albenensis.

The first (BB 10/21/2) was the more spectacular, and received the Midland Challenge Cup for the best plant in the small pan classes.

The second of these hybrids (BB 10/21/3) was perhaps a more elegant plant, and was much admired.

Serapias lingua yellow labellum

My last group of plants are orchids.  David Carver exhibited an interesting form of Serapias lingua with a yellow lip, which received a Preliminary Commendation from the JRGC, subject to naming etc.

Pleione ‘Ueli Wackernagel Enigma’

Don Peace exhibited several pans of Pleione, which together helped him to win the Leschallas Cup for the Open section aggregate.  This three pan exhibit for plants requiring similar cultural conditions consisted of Pleione ‘El Pico grex’, Pleione ‘Stromboli grex Fireball’ and Pleione ‘Berapi grex Purple Sandpiper’.

However, my favourite of his plants was this large pan of Pleione ‘Ueli Wackernagel Enigma’.

Cypripedium macranthos flavum

There were several slipper orchids at the show.  Diane Clement exhibited this pan of Cypripedium macranthos flavum.

Cypripedium ‘Sabine White’

Steve Clements exhibited this hybrid named ‘Sabine White’.

Cypripedium fasciolatum hybrid

The Farrer medal went to a plant which stood out as soon as you walked into the hall.  Anne Vale exhibited this as Cypripedium fasciolatum, but it was generally to be a hybrid involving that species, perhaps Cypripedium ‘Sabine White’ shown above.  The JRGC awarded the plant a Cultural Commendation.

Tropaeolum kingii

So what of the few plants I took ?  My Daphne gemmata was seriously outgunned in the Daphne class.  In the class for three pans of bulbs, my plants were second to a much better late entry by George Elder, but probably wouldn’t have deserved a first even if unopposed.

My Tropaeolum kingii was second in the class for plants which are rare in cultivation, marred a little because the supporting pea-stick broke about a week ago, and severed one of several stems.  This meant that some stems, which could not be extracted from the tangle, had yellowing leaves.

Tropaeolum beuthii hybrid

That left just this plant, grown from seed as a Tropaeolum beuthii hybrid, though it has little resemblance to Tropaeolum beuthii (the deep yellow species shown at the start of this article).  The hybrid’s dominant genes appear to come from Tropaeolum atropurpureum.  I had entered it in the class for a plant grown from seed, but had low expectations.  To my surprise, it received first place.

Finally, I have earned my Gold Medal.  It has taken a little while – I received by Silver Medal in 2004.  But I have kept on grafting away, entering plants when I thought they were of a suitable standard; some years I didn’t win any firsts at all, but in 2019, when I thought all hope was lost, I won six.  And now at last my 50th first.

I would like to offer my thanks to everyone who contributed to make this show happen.  To new show secretary Christopher Snelson and all the local team, to Jo Walker who seemed to be running the refreshments stall on her own until my wife Helen joined her, and to Diane Clement who seemed to be everywhere, fixing things so that the show ran smoothly.  And of course to the judges, and Ray Drew who presided over their activities, and most of all to the exhibitors who brought all these beautiful 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 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 still visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors, and is actively involved in other plant photography, both in gardens both public and private, and on 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