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Harlow Carr 2018

October 13, 2018

The 22 and final show of the 2018 season had a distinctly ‘end of term’ feel on a damp, windy day, yet the weather could not mask the glorious autumn colours of the RHS garden, on display through the picture windows. The venue is not a straightforward one for exhibitors, with the show staged in two smallish rooms up a steep narrow staircase, but once again it attracted a throng of visitors and provided an excellent showcase for the Society to the wider gardening public.

Not for the first time, Lee and Julie Martin amply justified their 300-mile journey from Sussex by winning not only the cup for the Open Section aggregate but also two Certificates of Merit. One was for their lovely Crocus goulimyi ‘Lakonian Pearl’ PN/RS 09/01, originally collected by Pat Nicholls and Roy Skidmore on a Cyclamen Society expedition.

This had previously won the prize for the best plant in a 19cm pot last year (see last year’s report) and compare the respective photographs. This time the delicate lilac flowers were still opening. Their second certificate was for a small but immaculate pot of Sternbergia sicula, which also had a distinguished pedigree. The bulbs were from among those that won both the Farrer Medal and the best 19cm award at the Kent Autumn Show in 2015 (see that report for useful cultivation information).

Your reporter’s eye was caught early in the day by the sight of Julie carrying from the car park their first prize-winning cut flower arrangement. This drew me to the assumption that Julie was the florist who created it – but no, it is Lee who has constructed their many beautiful entries in this class. This example had been assembled two days earlier but sparkled with a fresh vivacity that delighted the eye.

Best in Show was awarded to another stalwart of recent autumn shows – Alan Furness’s large pan of glistening white Crocus banaticus ‘Snowdrift’ that had won him the Farrer Medal at the 2015 Kent Autumn Show. On this occasion, the judges decided it did not quite merit that award, perhaps because a few of the flowers were a little past their peak.

Alan described how he is careful to keep the pot plunged in an outside frame, covered at all times by half-inch wire mesh after a disastrous experience in which he lost many valuable bulbs to hungry mice. His success in growing crocuses is attributable in part to his growing mix, comprising his standard bulb compost (seven parts John Innes No.2, one of loam, three of coarse sand and one of grit) and to three parts of this is added one part of humus.

In second place was Mark Childerhouse’s ensemble of the delicate Greek Allium callimischon subsp. haemostictum, the largest and most floriferous of several present.  Failure to remove dead and dying flowers from show entries normally forfeits any hope of attracting favourable attention from the judges. However, every exhibitor of this species had proudly left in place the deep pink dead flowers, no doubt because they contrast so attractively with the slightly spotted white buds and open flowers. On Mark’s entry, some stems had developed small bulbils, not flowers, another feature rarely seen in a successful show plant

Anne Wright won a deserved first with three elegant, distinct forms of Galanthus reginae-olgae. The eye was also taken elsewhere by her lovely small pot of the North African Hyacinthoides lingulata with flowers fresh and fully open and leaves in perfect condition. In a different class it would surely have received more than the third place it secured when competing against Alan’s Crocus and Mark’s Allium.


The large, vibrant pots of blue autumn gentians so often brought to this show by northern exhibitors were rather lacking. The best was Mala Janes’s excellent Gentiana ‘The Caley’, a selection named to celebrate the 2009 bicentenary of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society. To the envy of those of us living in warmer, drier locations, Mala’s specimen had matured from small divisions over three years on a shady bench against a white wall under the eaves of her house.

As expected, Cyclamen aplenty were on display but this year the biggest and finest sometimes seen at this show had flowered earlier. The one large Cyclamen graecum, exhibited by Ann and Michael Morton, had small, well-marked leaves and mid-pink flowers. Obtained at a Cyclamen Society event some ten years ago, this was its first profuse flowering. As per the standard method for growing this species, it is kept under glass and, when dormant, the pot is placed in a shallow water bath every couple of weeks. This ensures the fleshy roots descending from the corm have access to some moisture.  That treatment, combined with the baking summer in its Surrey home, had generated a fine display.

A Cyclamen maritimum (formerly C. graecum subsp. anatolicum) was adjudged the best plant in the Novice Section and helped Steven Squires romp home to the aggregate award in therein. Grown from AGS seed sown in December 2011, its many buds were just opening, showing great promise for the future as it and its owner progress their campaign.

Last, but most certainly not least, the trophy for the best plant in the show in a pot no more than 19cm in diameter, Vivian Self’s Petrocosmea begonifolia, a fine achievement for an exhibitor in the Intermediate Section. In excellent condition, it was covered with a wealth of yellow-throated white flowers and had been grown on a bench in a south-facing but shaded greenhouse. A little water is applied at the base when the leaves become slightly flaccid – overwatering leads to rot. Occasional feeds of an African Violet fertiliser are administered.

So ended another round of shows – a year of challenging climatic conditions with a cold, late spring, a baking hot, dry summer and autumn storms. Time to return our show plants to their winter quarters and eagerly anticipate the next spring.

Author: David Charlton

Photographers: Jon Evans and Don Peace