The East Cheshire Show was the first at which your reporter, in 1989 (with great trepidation), exhibited. The encouragement I received then from a number of the more experienced exhibitors means that here I am, nearly 30 years later, still enjoying showing plants competitively. And so it was with great pleasure that I heard the news that this show, after a brief absence, was to be restored.
Bob Worsley and his team had worked hard to find a suitable venue and were concerned that this might not be ideal in terms of size and facilities. As the plants began to arrive, one did begin to wonder if they would all fit in. Any such fears proved unfounded and although one or two classes might have benefitted from slightly more space, with some judicious juggling by the stewards, room was found for everything.
There were eleven entries in the large three-pan foliage class and eight in the three-pan Sempervivum class. Add to this the entries in these categories for single pans, the fern classes and the cushion plants and you might wonder if the show lacked colour. This was not the case. Roscoeas, Rhodohypoxis, rhododendrons and shrubs (including some much discussed kalmias), later flowering lewisias such as L. rediviva, arisaemas, saxifrages and orchids meant that there was also much flower power in evidence.
The Farrer Medal went to a well-flowered, mature plant of Rhododendron lowndesii shown by Dave Mountfort. The Cheshire Challenge Trophy for the best plant in a pot not exceeding 19cms went to a pristine Physoplexis comosa grown by Tommy Anderson; it was one of six lovely plants in the class for three in flower and three shown for foliage effect. Here too he had a white form of Allium crispum (a second pot was deployed in another class), obtained from the SRGC Seed Distribution, though originally from stock raised by Robert Rolfe from seed supplied by Ron Ratko. A standard bulb compost of John Innes no. 3 and grit with some added perlite is used, with annual repotting. A sunny aspect, good drainage and a ‘dryish’ summer rest are recommended, along with cold glass protection. More usually pink or even deep purple, this species is endemic to California, along the central coastal ranges and the Santa Monica Mountains, typically in clay and serpentine soils.
The Charles Graham Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate Section, along with the Kath Dryden Award for the best bulbous plant in the Intermediate and Novice Sections, went to a lovely pot of Allium crenulatum belonging to Frank Dobson. Short in stature, the flowers were rather obscured by the leaves, so it was perhaps not as showy as some of the other alliums, but well worth growing nevertheless. This flower colour ranges from deep pink to white. Its common name, the ‘Olympic Onion’, references its distribution in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia at between 600-2,500m, growing on talus slopes, alpine tundra and even serpentine soils
The Hartside Trophy for the best plant in the Novice Section went to Saxifraga longifolia, exhibited by Paul Mackenzie. A monocarpic species that normally forms one large, fairly flat rosette, it grows on limestone rocks and cliffs at between 800-2,400m in the Pyrenees, certain mountains in eastern Spain and (though the subspecies involved is very rarely cultivated) the Atlas Mts. With good cultivation a flower spike will be produced after three to four years.
Saxifraga callosa var. australis was well shown in the Open Section by John and Clare Dower, the low arching wands of flowers so dense that the plant`s rosettes could hardly be seen. S. callosa is split into var. australis and var. callosa (the latter with less regular rosettes and narrower leaves), spread from the Maritime Alps to southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia. One-time subsp. cataulanica from north-eastern Spain is now once again deemed a species in its own right. These members of Section Ligulatae, commonly known as encrusted or silver saxifrages, are in general readily grown in well-drained, but not dry, ideally alkaline soil. While they are usually thought of as sun lovers, in the wild they are often to be found in partial, occasionally almost full shade. This was not the only saxifrage staged by these growers. I was impressed by their S. longifolia hybrid with its pristine rosette and impressive inflorescence.
There continues to be much discussion about the presence of Cactaceae in our shows. Yet it cannot be denied that some are true alpines, as hardy as almost any other plants seen on the benches (their dense furry white spines protect them from the extremes of heat and cold). When in flower they certainly add colour to the shows and while the rosettes are attractive in their own right, Rebutia simoniana [left] (shown by Vic and Janet Aspland) drew attention due to its vivid floral. The stock in question, from Potosi, Bolivia, was found at 3,000m. Its field number, WR739, indicates a gathering by Walter Rausch, although the same number, apparently, is also given to R. tarvitaensis. Slow-growing, it is said to flower easily and can be recommended unhesitatingly. It likes good light and cool, dry conditions in winter. A very open compost with at least 50% sand or pumice and a pH on the acid side is used, with a high potash liquid feed in summer. The same exhibitors also brought along R. condorensis with deep red flowers and R. Carnival, a grex with in this case pale pink flowers.
From pale to full-throttle pink: Eddie Spencer’s entry of Dianthus ‘Eileen Lever’ in the class for Caryophyllaceae caused at least one exhibitor to move his plant elsewhere. His garden is south-facing and very sunny, which suits many in this genus. But while he was on holiday a few years ago, the plant suffered severe sunburn. With care, some trimming and repotting, it made a complete recovery, covering itself with flower this season. He grows this novel hybrid, distributed by Aberconwy Nursery, in a loam-based gritty compost. Another member of the same family, Saponaria ‘Bressingham Pink’, is more often grown in a raised bed or trough, but Sam and Mavis Lloyd brought to attention its virtues as a show plant.
In a neighbouring class, Peter Farkasch positioned Roscoea ‘Harvington Evening Star’ at the fore of his three-pan entry, its deep purple flowers drawing a succession of admiring comments. Obtained from Hartside Nursery and grown on in a mixture of John Innes no. 3, composted/chipped bark and perlite, it can be relied upon to do well in any free-draining soil in dappled shade, but must not be subjected to summer drought, or penetrating frost in the winter (plunge the pot in sand to the rim), nor waterlogging. This and other ‘Harvington’ plants were raised by Hugh Nunn at his Evesham nursery: his selected forms have received numerous RHS awards. Peter recommended another of these, R. ‘Harvington Imperial’, a hybrid between ‘Wisley Amethyst’ and ‘Red Ghurkha’ that flowers until August, extending the season.
Diane Clement’s Lilium dauricum f. rebunense is a delightful dwarf that I would love to have taken home! Its short, stout stems are densely clothed in narrow dark leaves and topped by large, up-facing flowers. L. dauricum is very diverse in height and colour and named after a region in Siberia. This rare, very dwarf form is restricted to Rebun Island, off the northern coast of Japan. It likes a humus-rich soil with good drainage in an open position (no more than very light shade) and is very cold hardy in such conditions. The exhibited plants had been grown in a mixture of ericaceous compost, perlite and leaf-mould and kept in a cold frame when dormant. When the shoots appear in April, the pot is moved outdoors and watered almost daily until dormancy takes place in autumn.
I mentioned earlier the number of plants shown for their foliage and Rod and Shirley Johnson’s Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’ was immaculately presented, looking fresh as could be. What attracted me in particular was the feathering at the frond tips – this example of the Lady Fern has its extremities forked or crested into a tassel. If the frond is viewed along its length, the subdivisions are arranged in a criss-cross pattern. It is obtainable from a number of nurseries. While a shady spot is recommended, this species will tolerate full sun if it is kept well watered. This specimen had been grown in an alpine house in sun and given plenty of moisture. The growing medium was a humus-rich woodland mix and included peat. Repotted last year, it is best divided in spring, while the old fronds can be trimmed off either then or in late autumn. This was one of two ferns shown by the Johnsons that I admired, the other being the same species, but in its dwarf selection ‘Minutissimum’.
Many thanks to Bob and Brenda Worsley and their team of helpers who worked hard to make things run so smoothly, for their friendly welcome and for such an enjoyable and successful show.
Author: Dave Mountfort
Photogrpahers: Don Peace and Robert Rolfe