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Kendal AGS/SRGC Show, 2020

June 9, 2020

Despite challenging circumstances, AGS exhibitors once again proved that they are as hardy as the plants they grow and put on a fantastic display at Kendal.

This year the weather, after months of heavy rain, was a little better – dull with occasional light showers. However, the real dampener was coronavirus. The RHS Joint Rock Committee meeting was cancelled and a number of judges and exhibitors with health and age-related conditions sensibly decided it would be unwise for them to attend. Although this inevitably affected the show, the 54 exhibitors (63 last year) filled the benches with 480 high quality plants (540 last year). Nor were visitors put off, by and large. At times the show hall seemed extremely busy, although by early afternoon most had left. I hope the first-rate trade stands had a successful day, but suspect the refreshments team was not quite as busy as in previous years.

This year it was the turn of the show to be held under AGS rules. The Farrer Medal was won by Frank & Barbara Hoyle’s Saxifraga ‘Coolock Gem’, part of their impressive large six pan which won the Sewell Medal. (The same couple last year won a Forrest Medal here with its stablemate, S. ‘Coolock Kate’.)

Unusually, there was no entry in class 51 (the small six-pan class). The Duncan Lowe Award for the best plant in a pot not exceeding 19cm went to Brian Burrow with a pot of Iris willmottiana which gets better year on year. Seed is reliably set if the plants are hand-pollinated but the fledgling plants are rather slow to reach maturity.

The Kirby Cup for the best foliage plant went to Helichrysum coralloides shown by David Millward. One of the New Zealand ‘whipcord’ species that thrives in the part of Scotland where the exhibitor lives (there is a venerable specimen not far away from East Linton in the trough area at RBG Edinburgh), it is often assigned to the genus Ozothamnus these days.

The Clarkson Trophy for the best Ranunculaceae was won by Bob Worsley with a prolifically flowered Hepatica acutiloba, one of the several that he exhibited at the Loughborough Show a week earlier. The David Mowle trophy for the best bulbous plant in the Intermediate and Novice sections went to Fritillaria sewerzowii shown by Andrew Ward of Wisbech.

Four Certificates of Merit were awarded. One to the perhaps not previously exhibited and very attractive Fritillaria ariana x bucharica shown by Bob Worsley (which appeared to have benefitted from the more obliging temperament of F. bucharica), one to Alan Spenceley’s Trillium nivale, the third to Fritillaria wendelboi grown by Diane Clement and finally to Derek Pickard’s Dionysia freitagii, a deep reddish-purple individual whose deeply saturated colour he has endeavoured to ‘fix’ through seedling selection over a number of generations

There was also a most impressive display of photographs and educational information entitled ‘A Taste of Colorado. Viewing from left to right this illustrated plants from 11,000-14,000 ft (c. 3,400-4,300 m) on Mt. Evans, Trail Ridge Road, Independence Pass and Loveland Pass. It was meticulously documented with maps and informative labelling. The work of Frank Hoyle, it caused much interest and was awarded a Large Gold Medal.

Colchicum (Bulbocodium) vernum, shown by Mala Janes, is a delightful little bulb that attracted attention since not only were 17 flowers fully out, with four still to open, but the form was slightly different from those usually cultivated. Grown from seed collected some years ago near Wengen in the Bernese Oberland, these were more diminutive, their segments more widely spaced and without the ragged appearance sometimes apparent.

The Spring Meadow Saffron occurs throughout the European Alps and as far east as southern Russia, flowering from February to May and as such over by the time many flower-seekers take their holidays. Mala provides the bulbs with a layer of humus in the bottom of the pot and a compost of John Innes no. 3 and grit above this. She also uses a ‘pinch’ of Charge, described as an ‘organic soil enhancer made from the droppings of beetles … bursting with beneficial bacteria which boosts resistance to pests and disease’! The colony had not been re-potted last year, though fed regularly with Tomorite. My stock is extremely susceptible to slug depredation and if steps are not taken, the flowers are eaten off before they emerge above ground. Mala sprinkles spent coffee grounds as a deterrent.

Labelled by John Richards as the ‘Czech clone’, referencing its raising in cultivation by Vlastomil Braun at an unspecified date before 2012, Primula x meridiana is the name coincidentally coined by John in 1998 to encompass hybrids between P. marginata and P. allionii. These occur very occasionally in the wild, and one of the first introductions was accorded the clonal name ‘Miniera’, referencing its locale. The first discovery is attributed to Charles Mountfort, a former editor of the AGS Bulletin. John says three clones of this hybrid have been found in the Maritime Alps, all close to one other in appearance. This 12 cm diameter plant had been in the grower`s possession for eight years, during which it had been grown in a 50/50 mix of John Innes no. 3 and perlite. While it did not win its class, there being eleven other superb entries, it was much-admired.

And so to a couple of Diapensiaceae members. Alan Oatway entered Berneuxia thibetica, which comes from wet Abies and broad-leaved forests at 1,700-3,500m in Sichuan, SE Xizang, N Guizhou and N Yunnan. Its synonyms include Shortia thibetica and S. davidii. The original plant had been obtained from Edrom Nurseries by David Shaw, who believes that they had obtained their stock from Mike & Polly Stone. David subsequently reared a number from seed, of which this offspring which had been grown on by Alan for about seven years.

Lifted from the garden for exhibit, it had been grown in pure sphagnum moss peat. This, Alan cautioned, is prone to vine weevil infestation! It formed part of a three-pan entry along with a reddish form of Primula kisoana and Pulsatilla vernalis with numerous buds, but sadly only a single flower open. This last would have been spectacular, given another week.

Cliff Booker’s Shortia uniflora belongs to a small alliance of subshrubs, some others hived off to Schizocodon. This native of eastern Honshu (Japan) is arguably the most decorative and sometimes thrives in gardens: Gerry Mundey grew it by the thousand on his New Forest nursery Tinney’s Firs, near Salisbury, and peat wall plantings more recently have established very well. Cliff could not be present but I suspect that this was the plant that won a Farrer Medal at last year’s Hexham Show. If so, it was larger, to almost 30 cm across, with at least 40 flowers but these perhaps not quite so evenly distributed. Even so, a large, impressive plant that deservedly won its class.

Although Alan Furness penned the name Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. moschatus on its label, the consensus was that the species in question was N. alpestris. He responded that it had been acquired under this identity but ongoing discussions had been persuaded him to enact a rebranding. He believes that N. alpestris is variable in the wild and that high-altitude forms such as this differ slightly from the ‘type’. The leaves seemed greener than some, although this was possibly a deception caused by the indoor lighting. This was a superb potful, surprisingly only awarded third place in its class. Alan shrugged his shoulders, saying that because some of the outer flowers and stems always hang down slightly, it does not always receive its just desserts. He grows it in a mix of two parts John Innes no. 3 to one of coarse sand, sprinkled with ‘Trench Manure’. It lives outside and was not repotted last year.

Peter Hood’s Kelseya uniflora was similarly unlucky not to win its class. But it was in competition with a huge pot of Trillium nivale grown by Alan Spenceley that not only won the class but was also awarded a Certificate of Merit. The monotypic Kelseya, a member of the Rosaceae, inhabits volcanic and limestone cliffs between 1,500 and 3,030m in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, with venerable plants up to a metre across. In cultivation ‘10-15 cm across would be an achievement’ (AGS Encyclopaedia). Very slow-growing and shy to flower, Peter’s plant was within these dimensions, studded with more flowers than most examples I have seen. This came from Aberconwy Nursery about 10 years ago and represents the legacy of legendary exhibitor Connie Greenfield. Left pot-bound for fear of disturbance, a year ago it had been rehoused in a long tom pot, with compost (John Innes no. 3 and grit with some limestone included) pushed under the cushion. It had then been top-dressed with large chunks of magnesium limestone. It had been given occasional applications of a low nitrogen, high potash feed.

In the class for a plant new in cultivation, Geoff Rollinson showed his mastery of the genus once again with the novel Androsace ovczinnikovii. This is one of numerous A. villosa affiliates, in this case from the Tien Shan and Altai Mountains of western Siberia and Mongolia at altitudes between 3,500-4,700m, where it typically forms fairly loose (but in the plant seen, reasonably compact) mats and can be found in dry meadows, open woodland and on stony scree slopes. Geoff had obtained seed from a botanic garden and recommended a compost of equal parts John Innes no. 3 and grit.

Frank Dobson’s Fritillaria reuteri helped him win the Intermediate Section’s Michael Roberts Memorial Trophy. It grows in a very few parts of western Iran, sometimes in great numbers, in rocky meadows that are wet at flowering time but dry in summer. The flowers are rather similar in appearance to those of F. michailovskyi but are carried on taller stems and are more open. Frank obtained his stock from Pottertons some seven years ago. Grown in a mix of three parts John Innes no. 3 and one of grit it has increased steadily. Dilute Tomorite is regularly applied during the time that the bulbs are in leaf.

Pat Murphy’s impressive rosette of Meconopsis x complexa (M. napaulensis hort.) helped secure the Novice Section aggregate. After several years of growth this monocarpic plant will produce pink, red or purple flowers. Here it won the foliage class. Pat said that she had grown it in pots rather than as open ground plants, in a leaf-mould-enriched soil kept moist but well-drained – very few, if any, alpines can tolerate growing in stagnant water. It was just beginning to form its flowering spike, so come the summer Pat will be collecting seed and starting all over again.

Many thanks to Diane Clement for stepping in at the last minute as show co-ordinator and keeping the judges in order. More thanks still to show secretary Alan Oatway and his team of helpers who overcame school renovations, extensive malfunctions and Covid-19 to put on an excellent show under particularly difficult circumstances, for welcoming us and looking after us so well. There were lots of smiles, much good humour and, at the end, the particularly satisfying feeling of a day well spent.

Reporter: Dave Mountfort

Photographer: Don Peace