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Loughborough Autumn 2018

September 29, 2018

See some of the plants exhibited at the AGS Loughborough Autumn Show 2018.

If spring came late in 2018 then autumn got underway remarkably early, and precipitately at that, ushered in over various parts of the country by the heavy rain that fell on the night of August 11/12 – the first of any note to revive many gardens since early June. As in the Mediterranean, the plants responded very quickly indeed and by late September, when this, the first of three post-equinoctial shows took place, certain plants one might have expected to encounter were either florally spent or else producing a second flush of bloom.

Cyclamen mirabile (which had flowered for some exhibitors fully six weeks earlier) was more or less absent but in its stead there were several pleasing examples of its closely-related fellow southern Turk C. cilicium, easily distinguished by its generally entire-margined leaves (not always present when the flowers first open), its smooth (rather than rather rough-surfaced) tuber, the roots issuing from a basal, central fount rather than from a halo-like ring, and also – it is said – their coconut-like perfume, which must require the olfactory sensibilities of a parfumier to detect: in a blind sniffing, all were subtly different to my nose. They included a leaves-present example of the now well-established forma album, seen in Bob & Rannveig Wallis’s AGS Medal-winning small six-pan (I’ll come back to this later) and dating from their late friends’ Ronald & Erna Frank’s seminal 1982 introduction.

At one extreme Don Peace had a notably large-flowered, mid-pink version from a July 2008 sowing in the small pan Cyclamen class excluding C. graecum, C. hederifolium and their affiliates. Here too, at the opposite end of the scale, Vic & Janet Aspland had an elfin entrant, the short-stemmed flowers deepest rose-lilac with slight stippling, the leaves absent. This they hope to ‘fix’ by cross-pollinating with another dwarf form, which is likely to be a lengthy undertaking involving several generations of seedlings and ruthless rogueing.

I’ve alighted on the genus Cyclamen first of all, and straightaway should acknowledge that they provided several of the show’s highlights, including a Certificate of Merit for Joy Bishop’s C. rohlfsianum, the Nottingham Group Trophy-winning C. maritimum as shown once again by Ian Robertson (his several venerable plants of this appear never to have a fallow year and have aged extremely well) and, in the Novice Section, Ian Sutton’s C. graecum, hands-down recipient of the Crosshall Goblet, with a fine mantle of dark, entrancingly patterned leaves and a serviceable scattering of late flowers. This said, both outdoors and under cover, many were on the wane and a diverse array of other genera made up the numbers.

Just over a fortnight earlier, your reporter had travelled to RHS Hyde Hall to admire the Colchicum Trial bed, almost entirely populated by species and hybrids suitable for the fringes of a woodland garden, gravel beds, open shrubberies, areas of the rock garden where their spring foliage wouldn’t overwhelm other inhabitants, and the bulb meadow.

By and large these are unsuitable for cultivation (and exhibition) as pot plants, whereas a succession of small, sometimes truly miniature species flower from late summer (C. alpinum) through to March, and are ideally suited to this discipline. In general they require patience, being relatively slow from seed (five years or more from sowing to first flowering), rather slow to multiply (some do not form offsets; others are generously stoloniferous) and only offered by specialist nurseries, few of them British, or as seed list items (although historically the best source of all, JJA Seeds, was curtailed by Jim Archibald’s death in 2010).

The current issue of The RHS Plant Finder has only half a dozen entries for such plants: you will need to search far and wide (several were on sale from specialist nurseries at the show) and exchange material with those specialists who maintain exemplary collections centred on enthusiasm and research purposes rather than pecuniary gain.

Jim & Jenny’s long-time friends the aforementioned Wallises certainly come under this banner, having repeatedly encountered and studied in detail the genus from the eastern Mediterranean through much of Turkey (the taxon C. archibaldii appears to have been recognised from that country of late) to Central Asia. They grew them especially well when they lived in Sussex, not far from Horsham. They continue to do so in the seasonally much damper climate of Carmarthen.

While it was by and large their blockbuster entries that led to them regaining the Derby Group Trophy (for the Open Section Aggregate), they also brought along a number of subtle entries that will have delighted the connoisseur. At this juncture I choose to highlight a small three-pan made up of a bicoloured Crocus niveus, another denizen of the Peloponnese (but also east to Turkey, flowering as late as December), the stoloniferous Colchicum boissieri, and the seldom cultivated, smaller still C. stevenii (deeper-coloured than usual and with the leaves just starting to emerge) from Cyprus through to southern Turkey, western Syria and Palestine at up to 900m, sometimes building up into substantial clumps, each corm issuing from 2-5 white-throated flowers.

Another trio, in the class for three pans belonging to any one genus, comprised C. cupanii subsp. cupanii (with attractively broad segments, whiteish with grey veining; this also appeared in their small six-pan), an atypically deep violet C. cupanii subsp. glossophyllum (narrower-leaved and described from the Peloponnese, though also recorded from Albania) and the fairy-flowered C. pusillum (southernmost Greece through to the Dodecanese, within sight of the Turkish coastline but apparently not extending to that landfall: this too can flower late, in November).

Due to the laggard filing of this report, I can record encountering the latter in some quantity once or twice on Symi in late autumn, usually by the side of or actually on pine woodland tracks, but most prolifically close to monasteries perched on hilltops, sometimes within their paved interiors.

Crocus tournefortii is also found on this notoriously hot and parched island (no permanent streams; water is ferried over from Rhodes in the summer to satisfy the needs of tourists and locals), though in my experience only on the very steepest of coastal cliffs, where the island’s sizeable goat population cannot gain access. It also occurs on Crete, Rhodes, and sundry Greek islands at up to c. 1,100m, mainly on limestone. Alan Furness had a stonking pan of this, in a much deeper-coloured than usual form, and I suppose that if the show had been held a week earlier, this would have claimed the Farrer Medal with consummate ease. As it was, the long journey down from Hexham had very slightly disconcerted the nonetheless eye-catching performance. No matter, for he very easily won through with a phenomenal grouping of C. hadriaticus at its peak, strikingly purple-tubed against pristine white globes, these not prone to the splaying and collapse that all too often afflicts the genus in such a stuffy environment. This unprecedented huzzah had been worked up doggedly from just three corms given to him around the turn of the century by the late Tony Rymer (who travelled to southern Greece, though whether this is one of his introductions is uncertain) and with the blessing of his wife Ruth takes the clonal name ‘Edward Rymer’ (his grandson). For good measure he had a further tremendous panful of C. niveus, shorter-tubed than is typically seen. His run of wins with this genus in recent years is remarkable, and cannot be ascribed entirely to the Trench Manure product that he advocates.

Other plaudits could easily be recorded, for example to Jon Evans’ Colchicum cupanii subsp. cupanii (recipient of then Minera Trophy for the best bulbous exhibit in the Novice and Intermediate Sections), which had a just-opening, yellow-flowered Nothoscordum montevidense as one of its accomplices, and in the new and rare classes his South African Strumaria sp. aff. truncata, received as one year-bulblets from Gordon Summerfield and the descendants of a collection made in O’Kiep, north of Springbok, near to the Namibian border. These were received in early spring and after a short growing period underwent an 18-month dormancy (casualties are to be expected from such juvenile material) but the remainder have established well and after four years have settled down promisingly.

George Elder, who grows such plants especially well, this time round had a fetching pan of S. watermeyeri from a May 2005 sowing, but made his mark in chief with a grouping of Crocus serotinus subsp. salzmannii from seed sown five years earlier that received the third and final Certificate of Merit/ It too opened only briefly whereas the Wallis’s C. kotschyanus performed tirelessly from start to finish, as did their larger, accomplished C. nudiflorus (a species seldom shown: it is often better in the open ground, suckering at will).

Given the season, it is fitting to finish by mentioning several exhibits reflecting the turn of the year. The exhibitor who had travelled the greatest distance (from the Isle of Wight), once again was awarded the Leicester group trophy (for the best pan in cone, seed, fruit or autumn-coloured foliage), his Aruncus dioicus ‘Noble Spirit’ invincible on the last of these counts. Michael Myers took the Marjorie Dudfield Cup (Intermediate Section aggregate) and his yellowish-lime, dwarf, 10-year-old Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ was also a contender, and I should also mention in dispatches Mark Childerhouse’s Saxifraga epiphylla ‘Precious Piggy’, the crenulate, delicately-striped leaves hairy-stemmed and displayed to good effect against a backdrop of dark chippings. The indefatigable Wynn-Joneses have introduced other versions of this promising Section Irregulares Japanese species (‘Little Piggy’, ‘Purple Piggy’) that obligingly produced new plantlets from the leaf bases; some have deep purple leaf reverses.


Author: Robert Rolfe

Photographers: Jon Evans