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East Lancashire 2018

April 28, 2018

See some of the plants exhibited at the AGS East Lancashire Show 2018.

The morning dawned cool, one might almost say ‘cold’ in the breeze, but at least it was dry, with a promise that rain might hold off all day. Following the heatwave during the Midland Show, when desiccation could have proved a problem, this provided relief from ‘car boot-baking’ on the journey in and home again. Cumulus clouds hung in the sky and the common Gean (Prunus avium) brought forth its white flowers along the motorway embankments, echoing their shapes. One feels that one is getting there once Rochdale is left to the south, for driving through the northerly suburbs one notices a Swiss-style chalet building, the Alpine Gasthof, and on entering the hall at Whitworth the hand dryers are denoted ‘alpine’. What could be more appropriate?

Now the full glory of the Show could be appreciated in comfort. And what a sight! A glorious mixture of colour, shape and form filled the hall, 74 exhibitors bringing 630 plants. Some classes were, by necessity, packed very closely, making a clear judging decision more than usually tricky. This year the event was held several weeks later than formerly which may have added to its appeal. Comments ranged from ‘Fantastic’ to ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Best show this year’. However, the date clashed with the Harrogate Spring and AGS Dublin Shows, and as such some nurserymen were not present, giving newcomers to the business of commercial alpine plant sales a chance to fill the gaps. That said, Edrom Nurseries opted for East Lancashire and brought along their accustomed range of first-rate plants.

Hepatica acutiloba Bob Worsley American trophy Loughbrorough Viola douglasii - Ian Kidman - P1090012 - 1200 Pixels51633

Ericaceae was well represented, the pick of the bunch being Ian Kidman’s Cassiope lycopodioides ‘Beatrice Lilley’. Freshly watered, it took strength to carry it to the front for assessment as ‘Best in Show’ which it duly won, followed by the Farrer Medal. Sid Lilley was a respected grower in a cohort of such worthies from the Midlands who carried off many a trophy during the 1970’s. His sister is remembered in this selection of the circum-northern polar species and no better tribute could be conceived than this.

Another of Ian’s plants that caught the eye was Viola douglasii. As seen it had just begun to extend its soft green shoots beyond perfection but nonetheless was still in such good shape as to win its class against a large number of competitors. In contrast with the cassiope, this NW USA species form the pinewoods of Oregon and California requires care with watering. Plunged in sand in an alpine house to half way depth, no water is given to the top half for fear of encouraging rotting, yet the sand must be kept moist at all time (only barely so in winter, until new growth begins).

Rosenia humilis - Brian & Shelagh Smethurst Viola douglasii - Ian Kidman - P1090012 - 1200 Pixels51633

With the world’s attention focusing on climate change, alpine gardeners seem to be turning more and more to plants from warmer parts, notably regions within the latitudes 10 to 35 degrees south, albeit the temperatures in these regions moderated by altitude. An example was seen in the small pan class for dwarf shrubs other than Ericaceae or Daphne. From the karoo regions of the Free Cape, Botswana and southern Namibia, Rosenia humilis is a real arid-land plant, named for a Swedish professor of medicine and first described in the 1970s.

Discussion centred around the suggestion that it might be a subshrub but learned opinion decided that its branches were quite definitely woody. The plant shown by Brian and Shelagh Smethurst was about 18cm tall but the parent from which it was a cutting has reached a height of almost 50 cm and is kept in an alpine house. This species might survive outside in a well-drained, sunny place but only experimental planting will provide the answer.

Alyssum caespitosum - Edward Spencer

Alyssum caespitosum (Exhibitor: Edward Spencer)

A well-supported class was the 19cm pan size for one cushion plant with the expected buns of Gypsophila aretioidescontributing to the numbers. It was a pot of silvery, pointed leaves forming a sort of upturned saucer-shape rather than a dome that Edward Spencer exhibited. Not unlike Alyssum bornmuelleri, it differed in having rather more silvery leaves which, on closer inspection, seemed to be a mosaic of green and grey. This was A. caespitosum, also a native of Turkey and growing on alkaline rocks. Its flowers are yellow, the petals lobed.

Gentiana clusii alboviolaceae - George Young

Gentiana clusii alboviolaceae (Exhibitor: George Young)

If you like your gentians to be blue then read no further. Gentiana clusii var. alboviolacea is definitely not blue but violet. Shown in the class for three plants raised from seed by George Young, this was not the sort of gentian that comes readily to mind when non-alpine enthusiasts are describing a typical mountain plant (they always seem to select a gentian or maybe an edelweiss, don’t they?) Gentiana clusii differs from other species in the generally classified G. acaulis group in having its calyx tube closely joined to the corolla, sharply tapering from the base not separated by a broad abrupt membrane, but one that is generally pointed. G. clusii flowers are reckoned to be the largest of the group but in this case they were small and much the same hue as G. pyrenaica. Not much ‘albo’ about it.

Primula albenensis - Don Peace

Primula albenensis (Exhibitor: Don Peace)

Primula albenensis featured among a trio from Don Peace in the same class, its leaves and stems absolutely covered in mealy farina, its pale lavender coloured flowers in perfect condition, belying its oft stated reputation as a shy flowerer. It belongs to the same section as those primulas known as auriculas, keenly shown by members of a society specialising in their cultivation and selection. These are thought by some to be rather ‘blousy’, but the plant exhibited was not in the least bit like those inhabitants of the much-loved Victorian auricula theatres. The species is native to Italy, more precisely Mont Alben in Lombardy, where it grows in shade.

Astragalus sericoleucus - David Charlton

Astragalus sericoleucus - David Charlton

Although seeds of both Oxytropis and its relative Astragalus germinate freely if the hard seed coats are scarified or carefully nicked, preventing the seedlings from rotting is not so simple an exercise. Astragalus sericoleucus, shown by David Charlton, had been given just such treatment, the successful grower having pricked out seedlings into a ‘long tom’ to allow for the deep root system. Seed had been collected from Weld County in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and reared in an alpine house in a very well- drained compost of equal parts of grit, sand and composted bark. Due to its provenance this species of creeping pea is unlikely to succeed in the open.


Miniature garden east lancashire show 2018

Miniature garden


Most of us have experienced a ‘Marmite moment’ when confronted by something we either like or frankly detest. Just as the classes for hardy cacti now feature in almost half of the shows, so too there is a class for a miniature garden with accessories. This recent innovation has been cleverly exploited by an exhibitor from Essex, Anne Vale, who has cornered the market in tiny landscapes. Whilst this may not be everyone’s cup of tea the skill of design and plant selection must surely be admired especially by the younger visitor element, which is perhaps why the class was introduced. The accessories, by the way, come from model railway companies, if you are thinking of getting in on the act.


Author: Peter Cunnington
Photographer: Don Peace