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Kendal AGS Show, 2022

March 19, 2022

The spring shows of our memories always evoke a grand display of coloured cushions of dionysias, Primula allionii, and Porophyllum saxifrages. I always like to start my trip around the benches at the Open Section Class 1, for six rock plants in flower, pan size up to 36cm (though a few show secretaries place it nowhere near the entrance!) At Kendal, you were immediately confronted by six huge domes belonging to these three groups, the distinctive products of Frank & Barbara Hoyle’s input. The judges just had to stand in front of this group in order to choose the Farrer Medal.

They selected Saxifraga ‘Coolock Gem’, a repeat recipient of this award. A beautiful plant that was raised by Jim Almond, the abundant neat, uniform white flowers cover the tight cushion. It isn’t too difficult to grow with patience, and good arm muscles when it attains its maximum pot size, but just a quarter of an hour’s hot sun, especially if the roots are at all dry, is enough for the cushion to burn – and several years’ work to be wasted.

Saxifraga 'Coolock Gem' exhibited by Frank & Barbara Hoyle

Saxifraga 'Coolock Gem' exhibited by Frank & Barbara Hoyle

Frank & Barbara also received two Certificates of Merit, one for Dionysia aretioides, the other for Saxifraga ‘Coolock Kate’, not included in the AGS Medal entry but a ‘spare’ in a neighbouring class, always welcome in case one of your planned six isn’t quite right on the day. But the plant that most interested me was their Saxifraga scardica subsp. korabensis, a taxon named by Jan Bűrgel in 1998. Another fine cushion (presumably the same clone that had done well for a different exhibitor at Loughborough), this small form of Saxifraga scardica (though at least one learned observer questioned that relationship) comes from Albania and northern Macedonia. What struck me was that here was a species capable of producing cushions as large and as floriferous as most hybrids. Quite often, true species are less easy to grow, or less generous with their flowers.

Nearby, but not quite at the other end of the size scale, was Geoff Rollinson’s tiny cushion of Androsace russellii. Grown from Holubec seed labelled A. bryomorpha, the two species do show some similarity but A. russellii appears to be more closely related to Sino-Himalayan A. tapete and A. selago. The small white flowers adorn neat rosettes of leaves: in all a typical, diminutive androsace. It comes from the Karakoram (northern Pakistan), whereas A. bryomorpha is from the Pamirs (Tajikistan). Geoff grows this in 60% grit and 40% leafmould, safeguarding the survival of the plant in cultivation by regularly taking cuttings. The plant shown was a cutting from his original seedling.

Androsace russellii - Geoff Rollinson

The best foliage plant in the show, staged nearby, was also relatively small. Chris Lilley exhibited Saxifraga x lhommei ‘Cecil Davies’ in the class for small cushion plants. A hybrid between S. longifolia and S. paniculata, it forms a small congested dome of symmetrical rosettes, the leaf margins heavily lime-encrusted. Chris obtained his plant from Waterperry and finds it extremely slow growing. It is kept in a free-standing pot, outdoors and uncovered all the year round. The judges debated whether it really counted as a cushion plant as defined by the schedule. Once that was agreed, the award was straightforward.

Saxifraga x lhommei 'Cecil Davis' exhibited by Chris Lilley

Saxifraga x lhommei 'Cecil Davis' exhibited by Chris Lilley

The genus Gagea consists largely of fairly similar, rather insignificant yellow, starry-flowered, bulbous plants in the Liliaceae. (There are more white flowered plants in the genus now that the genus Lloydia has been incorporated in Gagea). The only way to make an impressive effect is to build up a good clump. Bob Worsley achieved this with a potful of Gagea mauritanica, from the western Mediterranean. The stock had been grown from a Seed Exchange listing over five years, kept in the plunge bed of a cold greenhouse and never allowed to dry out completely. Repotted when crowded, not annually as is orthodox, this produced a Certificate of Merit-worthy grouping that while not immediately eye-catching, was exemplary and shone a light on this Cinderella genus.

Gagea mauritanica exhibited by Bob Worsley

Gagea mauritanica exhibited by Bob Worsley

Anne Wright of Dryad Nursery is a genius at propagating and hybridising miniature Narcissus. It is always a joy when she brings a brings a selection of her plants to one of our shows. She won the Duncan Lowe award for the best plant in a 19cm pot with one of her selections, Narcissus ‘Giselle’.

Narcissus 'Giselle' exhibited by Anne Wright

Narcissus 'Giselle' exhibited by Anne Wright - Duncan Lowe Award

But I found even more fascination in an assortment labelled AW4216 (Narcissus triandrus x cantabricus var. petunioides), which gave an insight into the breeding and selecting process. Part of a breeding programme started in 2014, crossing several forms of Narcissus triandrus with species from Section Bulbocodium, this was represented by 13 clones from one such cross, each separately labelled and growing in its compartment. Lots of delicate beauties with considerable variation, awaiting final selection.

Narcissus obesus x cantabricus petunioides AW4216 exhibited by Anne Wright

Narcissus obesus x cantabricus petunioides AW4216 exhibited by Anne Wright

There were good numbers of entries in the Intermediate and Novice Sections, including some nice Narcissus. Your reporter, from a generation who would never have exhibited cacti, was nonetheless attracted to a fine, attractive plant of Notocactus uebelmannianus. Cactus taxonomy is complex; it may be correctly Parodia werneri. With cacti, you can get rewards both in and out of flower, this plant in the latter category. Those who question the appearance of cacti at our shows should reflect that many associate with high alpines, in arid, mountainous area. This species, however, is from rocky terrain in Brazil. It shouldn’t grow too tall, and will survive short-term low temperatures but is best grown frost-free.

Notocactus uebelmannianus - Michael Williams

An exemplary display on alpines in troughs covered the far end of the hall, with examples on tables, in front of the photos. This would be ideal as a display at events for the general public. Produced in collaboration between the Lancashire North, Lancashire East, Southport group and East Cheshire Groups (working together as the ‘North West Bubble’), the driving force behind the display was Frank Hoyle, prouder of this than his main show entries. The photographs were of troughs, how to make a trough using polystyrene boxes, but also of alpines growing in the wild to show the conditions they grow in, and suggest how best to grow them. Examples varied from stone and concrete troughs to ones based on polystyrene, and plantings incorporating bricks, ornamental tiles – even a plastic wheelbarrow and an incinerator lid. The standard was superb; many plants were of show standard. Who, for example, would think of planting an ornamental concrete trough with just one species, Tecophilaea cyanocrocus? Unanimously awarded a Large Gold Award, I hope comparable material form part of displays at events which will attract far more of the general public.

Alpines in containers - Large Gold

Reporter: Peter Hood

Photographer: Don Peace