ags logo

Harlow Carr, 2021

October 28, 2021

What a delight to attend an AGS Show after 19 months of lockdown and social distancing! The atmosphere was joyful: exhibitors greeted friends not seen for so long as they unloaded their plants and filled the benches in a large, airy marquee with ample space for show administration and plant sales too. Ian & Georgina Instone deserve great credit for organising the show so well in a venue that could have proved very challenging, particularly on a wet, windy day. Thankfully it was dry and mild though cloudy, which left certain exhibitors frustrated that the flowers on their Oxalis exhibits stayed stubbornly closed all day!

Congratulations must first be given to David Carver, one of the youngest exhibitors at our shows in recent years, who swept the board in both the Novice and Intermediate Sections with a remarkable (perhaps unprecedented?) total of 18 first prizes, plus a number of seconds and thirds. In some classes he was the only entrant, but the quality of his exhibits fully justified his success. Two silver cushion plants caught the eye. The tricky x Leucoraoulia loganii was named best plant in the Novice Section. It was matched by an immaculate Helichrysum pagophilum.

Not for the first time at an autumn show, the Farrer Medal was awarded to a magnificent Allium callimischon subsp. haemostictum, a compact Cretan with tiny blooms that merit close study. Exhibited by Mark Childerhouse, the huge number of flowers formed a tight, compact mass all of equal height – a challenge to achieve.

Elsewhere the benches were full of the genera that form the backbone of autumn shows – Cyclamen, Crocus and a miscellany of other dwarf bulbs. As so often, Bob & Rannveig had an excellent day, winning the Open Section aggregate, the AGS medal for a six-pan entry, the Crocus Award for a fine Crocus kotschyanus and a Certificate of Merit for a silver-leaved Cyclamen graecum subsp. graecum Rhodopou form. Their C. hederifolium subsp. crassifolium and C. rohlfsianum in adjacent classes were exemplary. Ian Robertson’s six-time Farrer winning C. maritimum (see Loughborough Show 2019) was sadly absent, having been at its best a couple of weeks earlier, but his exhibits included the largest C. cyprium your reporter has ever seen, the fragrant flowers tinted slightly pink rather than to the usual pure white.

A number of small bulb exhibits caught the eye. Anne Wright exhibited an exquisite pot of a North African Narcissus that she had labelled N. elegans, though she said how difficult it is to identify with precision species of this group. The tiny flowers were just opening and their perfume was lovely. Among the autumn flowering snowdrops on display was Anne’s delicate specimen of Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ that originated from the late Peter Moore’s nursery, best known of course for its Cyclamen.

The Wallis’s exhibited a vibrant yellow clump of South African Empodium flexile that glowed amid the surrounding dwarf bulbs. But for those who enjoy the beauty of small things, great pleasure was to be had from Jon Evans’ diminutive E. gloriosum whose tiny flowers were just fading. Jon, who as usual spent the day diligently photographing the best and most interesting show plants, won the trophy for the best plant grown from seed in the Intermediate Section with a small Cyclamen rohlfsianum that had very attractive leaf markings. Surely a fine large plant in the making if the flowers can be coaxed to rise above the foliage.

Turning to non-bulbous plants, Dave Mountfort won a first prize with an immaculately presented, large Petrocosmea, currently a very fashionable genus. He labelled it P. minor, a name that rather surprisingly was declared to have changed to P. grandiflora – surely as dramatic change of nomenclature as can be imagined. On a smaller scale, Don Peace won not only a Certificate of Merit but also the award for best plant in a small pot with Saxifraga fortunei ‘Eiga’ bearing a tight display of the most vibrant red flowers. Its quality was illustrated by a comparison with several other good exhibits of this currently popular species that could not match its startling glamour. In contrast, the pick of the autumn-flowering gentians was John Richards’ Gentiana ‘Murrayfield’ with rich blue upright trumpets on a compact plant. Contrary to the advice normally received for success with these lovely hybrids of Chinese species, it is not grown in an ericaceous compost but a mixture of John Innes no. 3 and perlite. Repotted in March, it is kept in an open but cool location.

Autumn shows are always rich in non-flowering exhibits. Cushions have enjoyed a full season of growth and are at their best, before the mists and damp of later months threaten them with mould and botrytis. Two stood out from the crowd, very different in natural habitat but both grown for perfect form. Chris Bowyer, who had a successful day with his unusual foliage plants from around the globe, showed Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata, a dryland succulent from the Transvaal. Unlike most successful show cushions it was not a hard round dome, rather a flatter mat with each sculpted rosette quite distinct. The slightest touch of the fleshy stems can break them, causing white sap to leak and disfigure their perfect form. In contrast was a perfect example of a high mountain cushion plant from Iran that many of us try to grow but few achieve. Once again John Dixon’s huge, beautifully presented Dionysia esfandiarii set the standard for how these amazing plants can be grown.

Finally, there were fewer than usual exhibits showing autumn colour, just as there were fewer autumn tinges to be seen in the surrounding gardens than is usual for this show – a late autumn perhaps, after a warm September? Frank and Barbara Hoyle’s large Shortia uniflora stood out and simply glowed with shades of red, its leaves starting to curl but reflecting the gentle light around them. It won a Certificate of Merit and provides a worthy end to this review of an excellent, very refreshing show. Let us hope we enjoy many more when the new season starts next spring!

Reporter: David Charlton

Photographer: Jon Evans