A day of sunshine and showers, with a post-lunch hailstorm that saw everywhere white -over some 30 minutes or more. Though mercifully not when it came to ferrying plants back from show bench to car boot. Entries were not as populous as in some previous years but were nonetheless very respectable and the event was well-attended.
For many years, from the mid-1970s onwards, veteran competitor Cecilia Coller has attended most AGS Shows from February-October, habitually trouncing the opposition. Nowadays, she exhibits just occasionally – at Wymondham (nearest to her Norfolk home) in particular, where with typical generosity she brought divisions of several former winning plants for the sales table.
She also returned to the fray, her notable wins including Pleione El Pico gx. and P. Vesuvius gx. ‘Tawny Owl’, a glorious pan of Dodecatheon pulchellum and a seven-headed complement of refined, deep pink Allium nevskianum, represented in gardens from Tajikistan (though it occurs rather more widely, through to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan). Said to grow well outdoors, in areas with dry summers, in scree conditions, it is much happier under cold glass as a rule. Never risk your entire stock on the advice of a single wiseacre.
This last-cited genus was well represented throughout, with species ranging from North America to China, the Iranian A. shelkovnikovii ‘Sarejn’ (a clonal selection with umbels the size of a tennis ball, on the shortest of stems; the bulbs divide slowly but regrettably it doesn’t set much seed) winning the Sudbury Prize for the author of this report.
The introduction was made by Norman Stevens, who five or more years ago looked again to Iran, in part at least, when making the enterprising cross Iris paradoxa x acutiloba subsp. lineolata. He sold a number of unflowered seedlings (and also I. barnumiae x afghanica) at this venue, one of which turned up with two flowers at their peak and four buds, courtesy of Michael Sullivan. ‘If I knew this was how they would turn out, I would never have sold them’, Norman reflected.
Michael also came up trumps with the southernmost Spanish/North African Rupicapnos africana, long-flowering and self-sowing if given shelter. The fleshy, glaucous leaves otherwise object to biting easterly winds and winter wet, which causes them to blacken and rot. A cliff-dweller, it needs efficient drainage, sun and a degree of shelter, in the winter months especially. He also turned heads with an overflowing mound of a luminous green Clematis marmoraria x petriei hybrid, very likely one of several bred by Graham Hutchins (of County Park Nursery, Hornchurch, Essex) in the 1980s.
These need occasional trimming to curb the outgrowth excesses of the pollen parent and fairly frequent (every other year at least) repotting, using a lime-free, gritty but moisture-retentive, humus-rich compost. Venturing from the Intermediate into the Open Section, he had a very good trio of Jovibarba heuffelii, Sempervivum calcareum ‘Greenii’ and S. arachnoideum that outperformed all other contenders.
These take a while to awaken from their off-season torpor: May and the rest of summer is their season of glory. Which makes one query why there are classes for them earlier on, when their appearance is on the whole subfusc (I rule out those excrescences forced in warm conditions and sprayed with glitter for the Christmas market, to be discarded along with the temporary, ornament and fairy light-strewn pine tree by Twelfth Night).
There was a strong entry overall in the Intermediate Section, but Ben & Paddy Parmee went back to Chandlers Ford with the Ken Aslet Trophy (aggregate points therein), by quite a margin and the Suffolk Trophy (best flowering plant in the section with a yellowish Fritillaria affinis (up to five flowers apiece). Their blackish, even more malodorous F. camschatcensis, which I marginally preferred, olfactory considerations aside, was the only rival).
At this spring/summer interchange, a certain exoticism permeates the show benches, here exemplified by Chris Lilley’s Incarvillea younghusbandii with six vibrant pink flowers, held just above the lyrate leaves. Jon Evans entered the South African, greenish-yellow Albuca namaquensis and South American, bright yellow Nothoscordum montevidense, while NW USA Lewisia tested generally accepted bounds of acceptability, from muted to brash and gaudy.
Martin Rogerson’s were to the fore, including a bright yellow Lewisia cotyledon hybrid, presumably one of Jack Drake’s Sunset Group legacy. In the large three-pan for the genus, he showed a L. columbiana hybrid with ‘George Henley’-like flowers, a L. cotyledon with orange to brick-red flowers, and L. ‘Cyril’ (cotyledon x columbiana), with comparatively small rosettes hidden below a canopy of intense raspberry/purplish, very full-faced flowers. His best, these notwithstanding, was a muted pink L. cotyledon, whitish-eyed, and at its peak (some rivals had a few wizened flowers: it always pays to conduct a last-minute check during the hour before judging begins). He also showed the eastern American Trillium luteum, greenish-lemon and with mottled bracts, as subtle as could be, in contradistinction with his vibrant lewisias.
Only a very few points caused him to cede the Norfolk Trophy (for the aggregate prize in the Open Section) to Diane Clement, a close contender when it came to the Farrer Medal claimant with the USA/Chinese miscegenation Cypripedium parviflorum x farreri, the smallish pouches pale lemon, sometimes two per stem. Her large three-pan also included Trillium grandiflorum and a seven-cowled Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urashima. She scored again with maroon-purple Trillium sulcatum, Fritillaria affinis and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens, for good measure also showing C. calceolus of British origin (from the Sainsbury/Kew initiative), blooming a month ahead of plants in situ, in Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Anne Vale had been usefully at work with her spade, lifting from a fairly recently-made bed a floriferous clump of Iris cristata x lacustris that overlapped its 36cm temporary home. Demonstrating its appreciation of the well-watered, fertile soil by producing an abundant flush of bloom, who would have guessed that it had been bought from a Scottish nursery just three years earlier? The vibrant blue coloration of the blooms rapidly fades, counting against it on the show bench, where a do-or-die plucking of all those in full display a couple of days earlier, coupled with a lavish watering to promote the next flush, is probably the best strategy.
She came up trumps again in a four-pan class, unique to this show, in which two of the constituents must be in flower and two are selected for foliage effect. An immaculate Ozothamnus ‘County Park Silver’ (another of the previously mentioned Graham Hutchins’ raisings and here living up to its clonal criterion; it can sometimes look tarnished) was paired with Sedum sieboldii, fellow Japanese Pteridophyllum racemosum and a riskily, perhaps rashly dug-up Daphne cneorum ‘Benaco’ (Peter Erskine’s Italian selection which can be astonishingly floriferous, each shoot bearing up to 50 flowers). The Iris mentioned above no doubt benefitted from its uprooting (and was scheduled to be divided before being returned to the ground. But the Daphne…?
Ian Instone brought along half a dozen pans of Primula sieboldii in exuberant flower, the best of them a pure white form that received a Certificate of Merit. He also used this most versatile, strongly rhizomatous Japanese primula in a three-pan entry, along with Pieris japonica ‘Debutante’ (which in a decade gets to well over a metre tall, and as such is only showable in its early years) and Oxalis enneaphylla; as a ‘community’ potful in the class for one pan showing variation from seed (which it very much reflected: from a September 2014 sowing, some had fimbriate petals, some were deep purple, some were so large-flowered as to verge on the voluptuous); and in the large Open Section class for one pan Primula. As with Hepatica, there have been sakurasoh shows (held by a society devoted to the species) in Japan for many years, and the main flower types have been formalised, from those with narrow, notched petals to the opposite extreme, in which these are overlapping and barely notched, and from flounced and frilled selections to more demure, darker purplish interpretations with a nodding, bell-like form.
Author: Robert Rolfe
Photographers: Jon Evans