The cold spring continued and many plants seen at the South West Show the week before put in an equally fresh appearance in the still somewhat murky south-east. Consequently the benches were full of colour and with the addition of entries from various local exhibitors, the show was well supported.
Despite the overall high quality of the plants only two shouted: ‘Give me the Farrer’. Sadly one had to be eliminated. This was a 30cm panful of fabulously-flowered Narcissus watieri, shown by Nigel Fuller. If anything it was perhaps a bit too crammed full of bulbs, all struggling to get their leaves and flowers into the open but it was truly remarkable and well-deserved its Certificate of Merit.
The eventual winner, Dionysia khuzistanica, worked its way through the awards as the best pan of Primulaceae, then the best entry in a 19cm pot and ultimately the Farrer Medal recipient. It had been purchased by the grower, Joy Bishop, from Aberconwy Nursery in 2014. Unusually it had been grown in a plastic pot standing on a capillary bench, thus obviating the need to water from the top and risking rot afflicting the delicate rosettes. It had been potted in a sparse mixture of half a part John Innes no. 3, with one part each of vermiculite, perlite, grit and supermarket cat litter (the equivalent of Seramis).
A close second prize to the N. watieri, Hans Kaupert’s large-flowered Narcissus bulbocodium, was also awarded a Certificate of Merit.
Another Dionysia, the hybrid ‘Tess’, shown by Tony Stanley, was adjudged the best plant in the Intermediate Section. Tony had recently moved south from Darlington and had maintained his preference for growing plants of the genus in (very) long tom clay pots. Again the source was a little plastic pot purchased seven years previously from Aberconwy Nursery. Immediately after obtaining this, the bottom of the bottom was cut off and the resulting tube was inserted into the long tom pot of compost and never since repotted. Said by its owner to ‘thrive on neglect’, it was even covered in snow which had blown in through the vents this winter (several exhibitors had faced this problem at the end of this generally bleak winter).
Other Dionysia of note all had some connection with Nigel Fuller. There were several very well flowered pots of D. microphylla, a species generally regarded as difficult to propagate and maintain in cultivation: his alpha specimen received a further Certificate of Merit. D. zagrica is kept going by rooting numerous cuttings but these are reluctant to grow away and the attrition rate is very high; an explanation for why it is so rarely seen in shows.
An eye-catching, unrelated hybrid, ‘Dove’ (shown by Anne Vale) is one of the few white-flowered dionysias raised to date. This is a third (possibly fourth) generation hybrid raised from Michael Kammerlander’s seed by Nigel Fuller and is very slow growing.
Among the many Saxifraga on the benches were two large pots of S. scardica subsp. korabensis in the same class. This kabschia is a local variant from Mount Korab on the border between Albania and Macedonia, introduced in 1990 by Jan Burgel. The two large plants were only around six years old. Nigel Fuller’s slightly more compact, winning plant had been grown in an open frame rather than the alpine house which housed the other
No spring show is complete without its bulbous contingent. It was good to see one very old, rarely seen hybrid, Narcissus ‘Sennocke’ (the old English name for Kentish town Sevenoaks, exhibited by Tonbridge-based Mike Chadwick). It occurred spontaneously in the garden of Frank Waley in 1948. The putative parents are reckoned to be N. triandrus subsp. capax and N. minor. A tricky bulb to grow owing to its susceptibility to basal rot, this affliction seems most virulent if the bulbs are kept too moist and warm in summer, so the best preventative is to keep them cool and dryish, but not completely dry, during their summer dormancy.
Two species of Fritillaria were awarded Certificates of Merit. John Kemp’s huge pot of F. gibbosa which is a regular visitor to this show was a master class in how to grow this species from seed. His F. carica was a greenish form typical of those which originated nearly 40 years ago from near Fethiye in SW Turkey. It had been obtained long ago from Potterton & Martin and had been built up by the addition of seedlings to the original stock.
The bulbs are repotted every other year in a sandy/gritty mix with some perlite and a sprinkling of wood bark. They are plunged in the same area of his alpine house as the juno irises so that the watering regime differs from that normally advocated for such bulbs. Instead of the autumn deluge, only the plunge is watered in October or November and then in spring they receive careful watering, in common with the junos.
Finally, it was encouraging to see some really good exhibits in the junior sections. Of particular note, there were three lovely trilliums: Ben & Paddy Parmee’s T. rivale, kurabayashyi and camschatcensis that would all have been well received in the Open Section.
Authors: Bob & Rannveig Wallis
Photographer: Jon Evans