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Hexham 50th Anniversary AGS/SRGC Show, 2022

March 26, 2022

The first joint Show held by the AGS and the SRGC took place in Ponteland in 1972. This ‘experiment’ was not, as I recall, an official show of either Society, but it became so the following year, during which local exhibitors celebrated Sunderland’s unexpected victory in the FA Cup Final! Many years later, the Show moved to the Wentworth Centre in Hexham, and then transferred to Hexham Auction Mart just before two years lay-off due to Covid. The excellent show hall is currently used as a vaccination centre and had been foreshortened, the medical paraphernalia having been hidden behind a partition.

Hexham show view

As befitted this momentous occasion, held under Scottish Rock Club regulations, a warm sun shone from a blue sky all day and the Presidents of both Societies were in attendance, as well as the AGS Director. The Joint Rock Garden Committee of the RHS met to consider plants for awards, and the Show was graced with a fine educational exhibit by Mike Dale concerning evolution within the genus Primula. This was awarded a Gold Medal.

50 MIllion Years of Primula - Display by Mike Dale

50 MIllion Years of Primula - Display by Mike Dale

The Forrest Medal for the best plant in the show was unanimously awarded to local grower Ian Kidman for his superb plant of the golden Japanese violet Viola brevistipulata var. hidakana. Edrom Nurseries (who were present) consider this woodlander ‘easy’ if it is not allowed to dry out, but this was far and away the finest example ever exhibited. It was given the ultimate accolade, a First-Class Certificate, by the RHS Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee.

Viola brevistipulata var hidakana exhibited by Ian Kidman - Forrest Medal

Other contenders for the premier award could be found in Class 1 for six pans rock plants for which Frank and Barbara Hoyle yet again benched a remarkable group. They brought beautifully flowered plants of Cassiope lycopodioides and Pulsatilla ambigua for the first time this season.

The award for the best plant in a 19 cm pot went to Robert Rolfe for a 20-year-old Saxifraga x concinna ‘Ben Loyal’. This early hybrid between the Caucasian Saxifraga dinnikii and the Himalayan S. cinerea was raised by John Mullaney and retains a tight, slow-growing habit with flowers of a vivid reddish-purple. These soon bleach and a part-shaded alpine house positioning is recommended.

Saxifraga concinna Ben Loyal exhibited by Robert Rolfe - Sandhoe Trophy

Another hybrid was seen for the first time. Ian and Carole Bainbridge took seed from their diminutive form of the Portuguese Narcissus calcicola and noted that one of the resulting seedlings differed, being taller, paler and more frequently twin-flowered than the remainder. As the only Narcissus flowering concurrently had been the white Moroccan N. rupicola subsp. watieri, the exhibitors concluded that this had formed the pollen parent to this hybrid.

Narcissus calcicola x watieri

Until the last decade or so, the large and widespread genus Fritillaria had not been known to hybridise much. However, Don Peace has led the way with an extensive programme in which F. pinardii was crossed with F. aurea and backcrossed to both parents. Some of these hybrids appeared in several classes, including Don’s six pans from seed (Roger Smith Cup) which also included F. alfredae var. glauca, F. bithynica and F. amana. Don also presented his hybrid Fritillaria ‘Lentune Slate’ to the RHS Committee, which received an Award of Merit. This plant is of uncertain parentage. Its seed parent may have been Fritillaria (crassifolia) kurdica, and from the appearance of the offspring, it has been suggested that the pollen parent is F. whittallii. This is a fine, tall fritillary with flowers of an unusual shade of burnished bronze.

Warmer summers, and restrictions on the collection of wild seed have meant that New Zealand cushions are now rare visitors to our shows. It was a pleasure to see diminutive cushions of both Raoulia eximea and R. hectori, shown by Alan Furness.

Finally, a mention for Primula renifolia. This delightful primrose relative, with flowers of a limpid lilac-blue, had been a great rarity in cultivation until recent years, a single clone having failed to set seed and faded to extinction. Seed had been recollected in 2011 by an expedition to the western Caucasus from Gothenburg Botanic Garden, manned by Matt Havtrȍm, Marika Irvine and Henrik Zetterlund and funded by the Loki Schmidt foundation. The first raisings had been crossed with P. megaseifolia, a related species from nearby NE Turkey, to give rise to a new vigorous hybrid, P. x gotoburgensis. However, for this observer the hybrid lacks the beauty of P. renifolia. Although less vigorous, the latter comes readily from seed and has proved straightforward if kept cool in growth, away from bright sunlight, and not allowed to dry out. As with many primulas, young seed-raised plants grow away strongly. It is completely deciduous with no top-growth visible for four months. Small plants, and a few larger ones, were on display in many classes and this species has clearly come to stay, as long as gardeners cross pin plants with thrums and continue to raise plants from seed. [Photo: Ian Kidman’s P. renifolia, exhibited 2018]

Primula renifolia_exh Ian Kidman (2018)

Reporter: John Richards

Photographer: Peter Maguire