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Kendal 2019

March 16, 2019

A day of foul weather; gale force winds and heavy rain which, at times, made driving up the M6 rather like driving through a car wash! Those from the north-east even had to contend with snow.

However, once in the hall and with the benches filled with plants, spirits lifted and conditions outside were quickly forgotten. While I heard of at least one person who had decided that, in the light of the severe weather warnings, he should not embark on the long trip south, the majority of exhibitors, 63 in all, made it, placing 540 plants on the benches for us to enjoy. Nor did it seem to put visitors off: at times the show hall was extremely busy and the, as usual, immaculately presented trade stands did a brisk trade, so too the refreshments counter. Perhaps some people came in to shelter from the weather!

This year, the show was held under Scottish Rock Garden Club rules, witness exhibits of Cyclamen and Corydalis in the bulbous classes. The Forrest Medal (Best in Show) went to Saxifraga ‘Coolock Kate’, shown by Frank and Barbara Hoyle. Several seasoned exhibitors hailed this as the largest specimen that they had ever seen, adding that its condition could not have been better. It was part of this couple’s impressive large six-pan that won an AGS Medal. A huge Dionysia aretioides at the centre of the back row won the Ulster Quaich, the Scottish travelling award for the best pan of Primulaceae. This was flanked by huge pots of Primula allionii cultivars, ‘Pink Aire’ and ‘Marjorie Wooster’ which on another day could have been contenders for prestigious awards. Frank has recently started using a commercial fertilizer called ‘Charge’ which he described as being made from beetle droppings. He sprinkles this on the surface of his pots and is convinced that his plants thrive as a result.

An AGS medal went to plants in the small six-pan class shown by Don Peace. The David Mowle Trophy for the best bulbous plant in the Intermediate and Novice sections went to Narcissus cordubensis, once again shown by Heather Barraclough.

Another Narcissus, David Millward’s N. bulbocodium subsp. obesus ‘Lee Martin’, received a Certificate of Merit. I lost count of the number of flowers. Viewed from above, with its huge ‘bells’, it looked just a solid mass of yellow. Its foliage had been decorously arranged, appearing to hang down attractively at the front of the pot.

Another Certificate of Merit was awarded to Corydalis sewerzowii belonging to Peter Hood. The winner of the Kirby Cup for the best foliage plant went to a most impressive rosette of Saxifraga longifolia shown by Lawrence Peet. I measured this at 28cm in diameter. As one judge commented, ‘I would love to see it in flower’

And so to the plants I have chosen to highlight: Alan Furness’s Vaccinium retusum was the winner of the Ralph Haywood Memorial Trophy for the best dwarf shrub. A most attractive specimen, pleasingly symmetrical in shape, truly dwarf and fully flowered. The specific epithet dictates that the leaves should be notched but, as the grower pointed out, there was no sign of this. He wonders how different it is from V.  nummularia. It is grown in a standard, peat-based ericaceous compost including peat. In the wild it occurs in the eastern Himalaya at 2,500m, often growing as an epiphyte on rocks an attaining a height of up to 30cm. There are herbarium specimens at Kew from a collection in 1837 from Bhutan, but is also to be found in China, north-eastern India, Nepal and Sikkim. The same grower had a much admired Arcterica nana in the 19cm class for Ericaceae, well-flowered and appealingly compact.

Dionysias always feature at the early shows and John Dixon’s Dionysia khatamii was djudged the best plant in a 19cm pot, receiving the David Mowle Award. He had obtained his plant in 2013 under the collection number JLMS02-07/JM1. At first deemed a compact introduction, Dieter Zschummel considers this a natural hybrid with D. curviflora (the two species occasionally co-occur). Whatever its identity, it is a little gem.

At the South Wales Show a month earlier, Paul Ranson showed John a plant of the same name, from another collection. Very different from the one now on show, it is likely that the species is variable in form and colour. Grown in a mix of John Innes No.2, grit, sand, perlite and vermiculite, it is plunged in sand, watered carefully and given as much ventilation and air as possible using supplementary fans. Shaded in summer to avoid scorching, a high potash fertiliser is applied a few times while in growth. Greenfly are controlled by use of a systemic insecticide.

The Japanese Fritillaria ayakoana (Fred & Pat Bundy) has very seldom been shown. It is best grown in partial shade, although one nursery on the internet says that in the garden it should be grown in a sunny spot, in well-drained soil. That advice seems unwise, at least until a good stock has built up. The exhibitors had obtained their stock (just two bulbs initially) from Edrom Nursery four years ago. They say that it sets plenty of seeds, these small and rounded, unlike most of the genus. A number of seedlings have been raised, grown in a mix of John Innes No.3 with extra peat and grit, kept in a frame and plunged.

Another member of the genus, Fritillaria bucharica ‘Pulkhakim’ (Mala Janes), looked somehow more delicate than the usual forms of this species. The grower knew little about it other than she had grown it from seed obtained a few years ago from <ahref=””>Euroseeds. It took two years to germinate and was kept under an outside bench during its first winter, starting to grow away a year the following spring. Like others of the genus, if sown by September it will germinate and grow away like this. If left until later, an extra year is typical before signs of growth are seen. Grown in a mix of John Innes No.2 plus grit, sand and perlite, it is given a richer base layer of a humus-rich compost is at the bottom of the pot, affording the roots additional nutrients.

Although not placed in its class (which had seven entries) Brian & Shelagh Smethurst’s Polystichum lemmonii appealed to me for its foliage, its stature and because it is seldom seen. Each leaf comprises many oval leaflets which are overlapping, folded and twisted, such that the blade appears almost cylindrical. The margins are cut or toothed. It comes from western North America, growing in the Sierra Nevada from California to Washington State. There is also a disjunct colony in British Columbia, Canada, where there is a single occurrence in the Okanagan Valley. It grows on serpentine soils in the Red Fir forest and sub-alpine forest. Its common name is ‘Lemmon’s Holly Fern’ or ‘Shasta’s Fern’. The Smethursts had grown it from spores obtained from Ivor Betteridge, sown in May 2010. They use a soil-based compost with plenty of grit and leaf-mould (substitute composted bark if this cannot be obtained).

Corydalis ‘Lentune Lipstick’ (Don Peace) was shown in the class for one plant new in cultivation. It appealed to me, when first I saw it at the Loughborough Show a week earlier, and was still in first-rate condition. The red tips of the flowers formed part of its appeal and the name suited it perfectly. It is one of a number of selected seedlings with the ancient name of Don’s village, ‘Lentune’, in their titles, e.g. C. ‘Lentune Rouge’ and C. ‘Lentune Scarlet’. He describes it as a ‘foundling’, spotted by his wife Linda on their spoil heap which is made up of old gritty compost. Although he cannot be sure of the plant’s parentage, he believes that it might be C. malkensis x solida, both of which grow close to each other in his garden. His C.‘Lentune Rouge’ is a C. kusnetzovii x solida, so ‘Lipstick’ could be of different parentage. He grows it in two parts of John Innes No.2 and one of grit, in a clay pot plunged in sand. Given overhead protection during its summer/autumn dormancy, the plunge is kept moist.

Alan Furness’s Saxifraga x kochii was raised from seed collected off the Duncan Lowe form of S. x kochii (Saxifraga oppositifolia x biflora). It is a natural hybrid, growing in mixed colonies alongside the parent plants in the Swiss Alps. The show plant was selected as the best red of the seedlings. Alan says that it grows best on the north side of his tufa beds. Don Peace later commented that the plant on show was the seed parent of his S. ‘Firebrand’.

David & Stella Rankin’s Primula moupinensis var. barkamensis ‘Erlang Snow’ is a Petiolarid species from the Himalaya. A collection from Erlang Shan gave a proportion of plants with white (or almost white) flowers. This selection also has exceptionally large flowers. From seed, the plants flower in two years.

The same exhibitors also had an entry in class 55 for three pans Asiatic Primulas, where they displayed P. bullata var. bracteata, P. denticulata var. cachemiriana, and a more typical P. moupinensis subsp. barkamensis with prominent farina and pale mauve flowers. The plant featured and this last plant could hardly have been more different in appearance. It is grown in a leafy, well-drained soil and likes deep, damp shade and a humid atmosphere, especially during hot, dry summers.

Michael Osborn won the aggregate award in the Novice Section with the help of Drababryoides, one half of a two-pan class. He had another example of the same plant, winning him a first in the Intermediate Section. These were medium-sized examples of this species, slow in growth and not easy to keep in good condition, both notably well-flowered and making valuable additions to the show. Native to eastern Turkey, northern Iran and the Caucasus, this cushion-forming species requires a gritty well-drained compost and overhead protection from wet during the winter.

Many thanks to Alan Oatway and his team of helpers for putting on a great show under difficult conditions and for welcoming us and looking after us so well.

Author: Dave Mountfort
Photographers: Don Peace and Jim Almond