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Harlow Early Spring 2019

March 2, 2019

Due to site rebuilding, this year's show took place in a temporary venue.

Kit Strange and her team did an excellent job of making the most of the temporary space. The usual facilities for the excellent and diverse retail outlets remained in place, and nurseryfolk enjoyed a busy and rewarding day as Harlow’s reputation for large numbers of show visitors remained untarnished. The show will be moving to a new location next year and we look forward to a new-look show.


Despite several weeks of unseasonably delightful spring weather that preceded the show (rather belied by the gloomy and windy conditions on the day itself), the show benches were not overladen, neither were the plants on view particularly precocious. Nevertheless, several exhibitors complained of treasured targets that ‘went over’ during the preceding warm week.

Eclectic judging can at times go against the grain with adventurous, even ground-breaking results. In the context of the now customary, but nevertheless still exemplary, massive dionysia domes that dominated the show, the decision to give the premier award to a relatively modest pan of the exquisite, recalcitrant and scarce Reticulata Iris pamphylica was as unexpected as it was widely supported. In this slender beauty, the chocolate, gold-centred falls are subtly matched by violet flags, altogether a study in subdued beauty. It has been visited very infrequently in its very constrained distribution in woodland clearings near Akseki, S Turkey, close to Antalya. Colin and Elaine Barr are to be sincerely congratulated. Aspiring growers might take note of the substantial long-tom in which the bulbs were housed.

Muscari anatolicum is one of many other bulbous endemics originating from the Anatolian plateau. In a genus in which many of the better known species share a certain resemblance, the combination of pale lilac sterile flowers and black, white-rimmed fertile flowers is striking and distinctive. Bob and Rannveig Wallis benched a pan boasting over fifty 13cm flowering spikes.

Another Turkish bulbous treasure resulted from seed sown by Ian Robertson in 2011. Fritillaria serpenticola is another narrow endemic, this time emanating from the low-level sites close to the south-west tip of the subcontinent where it is restricted to a few bare sites on serpentine soils. This is a tiny species, the eight yellow bells seen here borne on stems only one centimetre in height. It has only been separated from its close relative F. carica in recent years.

The great Russian plant geneticist, and martyr to Stalinist doctrine, Vavilov, postulated that within a genus, regions of high species diversity tend to coincide with the centre of origin for the genus. Following this maxim, few would dispute the suggestion that snowdrops first arose and speciated around the shores of the Black Sea. We were privileged to witness a very full potful of the little-seen Galanthus krasnovii. This distinctive little plant is only known from about ten sites at the eastern end of the Pontus where it occurs in mixed montane forests at about 1200m. It is a close relative of the equally little-known G. platyphyllus, sharing broad, cucullate, shiny green leaves and pointed inner perianth segments bearing two green spots. This yielded Deborah Leonard that scarcest of accolades, a Certificate of Merit given to an exhibit in the novice section. Both species can be seen at Kew if you wish to enquire further into their differences.

Two ‘bulbous’ awards were available at the Harlow Show. The travelling Crocus award went to Ian Robertson for the second year in succession. This time to a plant, shown as Crocus dalmaticus the previous week, this time reappearing under a revised moniker, C. tommasinianus following the advice of crocus ‘guru’ Brian Mathew. This material originated from a site not far outside Cetinje in Montenegro. Lacking feathering, the flowers and leaves displayed a robustness and late-flowering untypical of the latter species as seen in cultivation; whatever, it is an excellent plant.

The Geoff Smith award for the best bulbous plant in the novice and intermediate sections was awarded to Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuus ‘White Petticoat’, generally thought to be a cream form of this variant of the ‘hoop petticoats’. Ben and Paddy Parmee had originally sourced this excellent plant from Dot Semple, but it is not difficult to acquire from a commercial source.

It is perhaps uncharacteristic for this reviewer to expend all eight of his allotted choices to bulbous choices. However, his heart was totally lost to one of the tiniest hoop-petticoats, labelled Narcissus bulbocodium var. tenuifolius. Grown by the Wallises from seed so-labelled by the late Joyce Bacon, the cream 1.5cm flowers borne on 4cm stems above filiform wiry leaves exuded great charm. Most authorities lump this variety within var. bulbocodium and in any case refer to a plant with stems more than 10cm high with deep yellow flowers. The Walllises have a real treasure here, deserving of a wider distribution and a new name.


Author: John Richards

Photographers: Jon Evans and Doug Joyce