The show day brought amazingly warm, summer-like weather – a crescendo to what had already been a particularly warm spring. In consequence, many of the plants exhibited were flowering weeks ahead of schedule, among them some real showstoppers.
There was certainly quality if not abundant quantity, the display dominated by several exceptional dwarf Iris entries. The most memorable of these for me (and the judges in general as it won the Farrer Medal) was bred by its exhibitor, Ray Drew, or more accurately his wife Sue, who carried out the novel cross. This involved the Balkan (and occasionally Turkish) pogon Iris pumila subsp. attica and the relatively recently described Iranian Oncocyclus I. acutiloba subsp. longitepala. A full pot of flowers, each one based on a tight-packed fan of leaves, this amazing addition to the ranks had come to its best for the occasion, as if by appointment.
Bob and Rannveig Wallis also brought along an excellent Oncocyclus species, I. sprengeri, closely-related to another I. acutiloba taxon, subsp. lineolata but restricted to central Cappadocia, in Turkey, growing in volcanic ash at 1,000-1,980m. While obviously not growing in volcanic ash in cultivation, it needs a very free-draining mix nonetheless. This had been grown from Archibald seed traceable to 1984 introductions and is a stoloniferous plant: an adaptation to the unstable substrate in which it typically grows.
Julie & Lee Martin brought a very nice Iris babadagica which received a Certificate of Merit. Also erroneously given as native to Turkey, it is instead localised (as far as is known) on just one mountain in NE Azerbaijan. This can be grown successfully in pots as well as outside in a well-drained position. It is one of the larger of the small-flowered bearded (pogon) irises and can be vigorous when well-suited.
In the Intermediate Section, a tremendous Petunia patagonica, shown by John Millen (Maidstone), shone out and easily won the Longfield Trophy. This southern Patagonian is notoriously tricky to flower really well, or at all for that matter, but this exemplar was in first-rate condition, even if it was just a day off all the numerous flowers opening in concert
Among the more demure, understated exhibits were a scattering of woodland plants, some of these seldom-seen. Paris quadrifolia, shown by Paddy and Ben Parmee, was one such. This, they acquired this from Cally Gardens, when the late Michael Wickenden was still at the helm, and is of UK provenance. You can see it in Britain, on the whole ancient woodlands if you go looking in late April to earliest May: I once found it in Epping Forest.
Another great plant shown by the Wallises, another of the Melanthiaceae, was closely related Trillium foetidissimum, also known as the Mississippi River Wake Robin, but this time from Louisiana. This had been grown from seed supplied by expatriate John Lonsdale and requires a very woodsy mix.
Janice Doulton brought some eye-catching dwarf daffodils, for which she has a particular enthusiasm. One that caught my eye was Narcissus ‘Rikki’, bred by Alec Gray in the 1950s. Janice is attempting to amass a collection of these earlier cultivars but also grows much more recent raisings. In another class, she had N. ‘More and More’, a new jonquil introduction from Rob Potterton, in whose catalogue it is described as having ‘multi-headed, dark yellow flowers from January to April… 20-25cm tall, outstanding.’
Overall, a rather sparse entry but the outstanding quality of the plants was what made the event really special. It was a lovely show, even if we saw some plants slightly out of season.
Author: Kit Strange
Photographer: Jon Evans