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Loughborough AGS Show, 2020

June 9, 2020

The large, light-filled hall was decked out with show benches full of plants in a vast range of colours and from all corners of the globe, an encouraging indication that spring was just around the corner. The small Open Section classes were particularly well represented with many classes having very strong entries.

The Farrer Medal for the best plant in show went to very large Dionysia aretioides shown by Frank & Barbara Hoyle. This perfect domed cushion was completely covered in deep golden yellow flowers, preventing even a glimpse of the foliage underneath. This is a fantastic achievement that most of us can only dream of emulating. D. aretioides is endemic to the Elburz Mountains of north Iran and is found over a range of altitudes from 300 to around 3,200 m.  Like many in the genus, this chasmophyte grows on limestone below shaded cliff overhangs and in crevices.

Frank and Barbara also received a Certificate of Merit for their majestic pan of Saxifraga ‘Coolock Gem’. Another Dionysia to fill its pot handsomely was Paul & Gill Ranson’s D. tapetodes ‘Kate’. This won both the Richard Regan Trophy for the best plant in a pot not exceeding 19 cm in diameter and, in consequence, the 90th Anniversary Award.

Porophyllum saxifrages are always looking good at this time of year and it was great to see some superb examples. One of the best was a large cushion of Saxifraga ‘Mary Golds’ (pictured), a component of Mark Childerhouse’s three-pan entry, along with S. ‘Coolock Gem’, and S. ‘Allendale Ghost’. ‘Mary Golds’ was smothered with hundreds of white flowers flushed light pink, particularly at the petal tips. This pink flush is particularly evident in the buds and as the flowers first expand (over time they turn completely white). This belongs to the Swing Group, which incorporates hybrids between Saxifraga poluniniana and S. wendelboi. This group also includes the popular S. ‘Allendale Charm’ and the easy, free-flowering S. ‘Tenerife’.

Also looking good was the late winter-flowering Saxifraga x edithae ‘Bridget’. I am a great fan of these early twentieth century Kabschia/Engleria crosses and feel many of them distil the best of both parents with their reddish-pink, sticky, glandular, nodding stems and sepals holding white marginata-like petals above tight silver-grey rosettes. ‘Bridget’ is a hybrid between S. marginata var. coriophylla and S. stribrnyi that was raised 90 years ago at Lissadell Nursery in County Sligo, Ireland. This fantastically large example was grown by David Charlton.

Primula allionii had a very strong cast at this year’s show, with many excellent examples gracing the benches. A large specimen of the difficult to nurse to any size clone ‘Eureka’, grown by Frank & Barbara Hoyle, received a Certificate of Merit. Raised by Ken Wooster, this has large, pleated, pure white flowers, unlike any other. With each bloom in perfect condition, this was one of the best, if not the best representative I have seen. In the same large three-pan entry, a deep pinkish-purple Primula ‘Crusader’ made a fantastic contrast and also bagged a Certificate of Merit, making a total of three for the Hoyles.

Brian Burrow’s Primula allionii ‘Frances Burrow’ was one of the showiest of all, its Barbara Cartland pink flowers stopping me dead in my tracks. Impeccably presented, and around 10 years old, it understandably won its raiser and exhibitor Brian a Certificate of Merit.

A far less showy but nonetheless impressive Primula was shown by Neil Tyers in the Novice Section. His Primula megaseifolia would have graced one of the Open Section classes. Neil also showed a couple of plants of the very attractive Primula allionii hybrid ‘Pink Aire’. Unsurprisingly he won the Beacon Trophy for most prizes in the Novice Section.

Alex O’Sullivan won the Outwoods Trophy for most prize points in the Intermediate Section, a well-grown Primula forbesii one of his stand-out plants. This annual from Yunnan and southern Sichuan typically grows in open, wet ground at altitudes ranging from 2,000 -3,300 m. Also, in the Intermediate Section, Brenda Nickels showed a very pretty Narcissus ‘Arctic Bells’ whose heavy musky scent was as striking as the flowers themselves. Brenda also showed a great example of the classic snow-melt plant Soldanella montana. Her plant was in perfect fettle with unblemished foliage and beautiful, light purple, nodding flowers.

Miniature daffodils were the highlight of the show with many good entries represented in several classes. Amongst the best was a Certificate of Merit-awarded Narcissus ‘Coo’, shown by Anne Wright. This beautiful, vivid yellow, dainty Tasmanian raising has N. bulbocodium var. tenuifolius as seed parent and N. cyclamineus as its pollen parent.  Perfectly proportioned, its long corona tube is cupped by the slender perianth segments.

Anne is renowned for hybridising the smaller members of the genus. Her dwarf jewels included an unnamed seedling, Narcissus AW2990-2 – a cross between N. rupicola and N. ‘Second Fiddle’, and my personal favourite, N. ‘Deryn’. This bicolor clearly has cyclamineus in its parentage, witness the creamy, backward-swept perianth segments and the long, distally frilled, pale yellow corona. A real beauty that I will definitely try to add to my own collection at home. Anne also won The Royal Bank of Scotland Award for the best pan of bulbs with her playfully named Narcissus ‘Minionette’.

The acid soil-loving Pieris japonica ‘William Buchanan’, grown by Eric Jarrett, had an abundance of pure white flowers. This dwarf form, now quite difficult to obtain from nurseries, was one of the outstanding woody plants at the show.

Another outstanding and rather more unusual plant was Leontice minor, shown by Bob & Rannveig Wallis. This member of the Berberidaceae is from Armenia, growing at altitudes of between 800-1,200 m on dry, stony, saline slopes. It is more demanding in cultivation than its big sister, the more better-known and more widespread Leontice leontopetalum, whose distribution stretches from Bulgaria in the north-west and North Africa to Central Asia.

They also took home the American Trophy with the azure blue Tecophilaea cyanocrocus. This Chilean member of the Tecophilaeaceae was thought to be extinct until 2001, when it was rediscovered south of Santiago in the Metropolitan Region. The genus was named by an Italian botanist, Luigi Aloysius Colla, for his daughter, botanical artist Tecophila Colla-Billotti.

In the small Open Section six-pan rock plant class, Geoff Rollinson entered for the first time in 20 years and convincingly won an AGS Medal. The outstanding plant in this group was Cyclamen coum, which also won the Webster Trophy for the best plant native to Europe. Other plants included the difficult to grow Dionysia sarvestanica subsp. spathulata, another good-looking Saxifraga ‘Coolock Gem’ and a nice pan of Trillium nivale.

A final note regarding the few juno irises (subgenus Scorpiris) seen at the show. A pot of Iris nusairiensis x aucheri shown by the Wallises, smaller than the bumper issue, Farrer Medal-winning one seen at the show last year, was still striking, the showy Cambridge blue flowers complementing the creamy central ridge on its falls. Grown as I. nusairiensis pure and simple for the past 50 and more years, this selection is to be given the clonal name ‘David Mowle’ after the man who did so much to ensure its wider distribution. A much more recent version of the cross, shown by Jim Almond, had almost velvety darkest blue flowers, the colour inherited from I. aucheri ‘Olof’, one of the KPPZ Leylek selections, dating from 1990. Less showy but with the honesty that many species typify was the rare Iris rodionenkoi, new to science (it was described from Kyrgyzstan in 2015) and new to cultivation. I have not seen this beautiful addition to the ranks before.  It is named in memory of the Russian scientist and keen Iris grower, Dr Georgi Ivanovich Rodionenko.

Reporter: Simon Wallis
Photographer: Jon Evans