Loughborough was, as ever, an excellent autumn show, full of colour and variety in one of the best venues on the show circuit. Impeccably organised, as always, by show secretaries Martin Rogerson and Neil Hubbard, visitors were treated to some of the finest autumn alpines.
Pride of place in this report can only go to the winner of the Farrer Medal (Best in Show), Ian Robertson’s superb Cyclamen maritimum. Astonishingly, this magnificent and beautiful plant received its sixth – yes, you read that correctly – such award. There are exhibitors who have won as many and perhaps more Farrers with a variety of exhibits but nobody present could recall one single plant that has been awarded anything like this number. Is there a case for claiming it to be the finest plant ever exhibited at our shows?
Just examine it closely – the compact foliage has exquisite markings. Perhaps as many as 300 flowers in perfect condition rise above (your reporter has attempted to count them so you don’t have to!). Ian has raised this plant from seed sown in October 1998. Given the longevity of this species, for how many more years will it grace our benches and what will be its final medal tally? Truly remarkable.
This was not Ian’s only success. He also won a Certificate of Merit for a fine specimen of the rather tricky and infrequently exhibited Cyclamen colchicum. But, as so often at our autumn shows, Bob and Rannveig Wallis otherwise swept the board, garnering no fewer than three Certificates of Merit, the AGS medal for six small plants and the Open Section aggregate trophy with an excellent selection of bulbs in perfect condition (not to mention the two awards received by Rannveig in the Artistic Section).
Two of their award winners, both with yellow flowers, formed part of the six-pan group: the delicate, tiny Narcissus cavanillesii from Morocco and southern Spain and the South African Empodium plicatum. Though from opposite ends of the continent, both require typical Mediterranean bulb treatment with a summer dormancy, infrequent re-potting and top dressing and a little liquid fertiliser after flowering.
The third, in contrast, burgeoned with about 20 pink/cream flowers. Biarum marmarisense, which originates from the Datça peninsula in Turkey, near Marmaris, is in habitat pollinated by fruit flies. It is summer dormant and, perhaps rather surprisingly, enjoys full sun.
Three diverse entries in the Open Section also caught you reporter’s eye. Chris Bowyer has, for many years, grown unusual foliage plants and cushions from all parts of the world. These are kept outside and largely uncovered in his Derbyshire garden where, because of the very spare, free-draining growing medium he uses, they flourish – even though some are normally considered of borderline hardiness. He won the class for plants with silver foliage with a fine mat of the Tasmanian Ewartia planchonii.
Contrasting in size was a small pot with four lovely flower stems of a South African bulb, Strumaria karooica, shown by Diane Clement in the class for plants new in cultivation. Reference back to the equivalent show report of 2018 (in which another example of the genus was described) demonstrates that these southern hemisphere bulbs are becoming increasingly popular.
Finally, a true delight for the eye was provided by Mavis and Sam Lloyd’s entry in the class for an arrangement of alpine plant foliage and shrubs. An elegant design on a simple wooden base contained no fewer than 19 different leaf forms, redolent of autumn colours and textures. Flower and foliage arrangement classes tend to be undersubscribed at our shows, which is a shame as the best exhibits are a joy to behold.
While the Novice Section had only two exhibitors, the Intermediate Section had a number of plants of high quality. It is unusual for an alpine plant show to have specimens of both a ginkgo and a fuchsia but here they were. Michael Myers’ Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ won the trophy for the best autumn colour. This dwarf form, bred in Holland some years ago from a witches’ broom and grafted onto a rootstock, grows at only about 5cm a year to form a congested globe of short branches with green leaves turning to shades of yellow as they age.
David and Liz Livermore won the cup for the Intermediate Section aggregate, their most eye-catching exhibit a large, well-flowered fuchsia labelled F. microphylla but which the judges considered to be the cultivar F. ‘Lottie Hobby’. The spreading shrub was adorned with many small, choice crimson flowers.
Finally, mention must be made of two experienced and accomplished growers whose presence in the junior sections is due to them starting to exhibit their plants relatively late in their growing careers. Roy Skidmore won the trophy for the best bulbous plant in those two sections with a pot containing seven lovely flowers of Narcissus obsoletus (formerly N. serotinus). How did it acquire such an unkind new name, given its charm and beauty? Roy also grows many lovely Cyclamen and an example of C. mirabile ‘Tilebarn Nicholas’ caught the eye with leaves bearing green ‘Christmas tree’ centres surrounded by vivid pink, a colour that fades as they mature.
Steve Clements is a specialist hardy orchid grower with a fine collection of lovely, rarely exhibited plants. His Spiranthes cernua was adjudged the best plant in the Novice Section, where he also won the aggregate award.
In the Intermediate Section’s class for rock plants rare in cultivation, he exhibited a most striking specimen of Pterostylis coccina, locally known as the Scarlet Greenwood in its native Australia. The promise of this name was amply fulfilled by the bright red vertical markings on two highly ornamental flowers.
Author: David Charlton
Photographer: Don Peace