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Loughborough 2019

March 9, 2019

The previous three weeks had thrown at us all extremes of weather, from sub-zero temperatures, through storm-force winds to record high February temperatures

The poor plants must have been confused as to whether to grow, flower or do nothing at all. It was great then to see nearly all 155 classes filled with alpine plants. The first thing that hit me on entering the show hall was the incredible scent. This ranged from the heady, highly perfumed Narcissus fernandesii, the sweet, almost candy-like scent of Dionysia aretioides to the unmistakably unusual scent of many of the Fritillaria species. Equally impressive was the sheer diversity of genera amongst the 641 plants on show, from shade-loving plants such as Hepatica nobilis to lithophytes like Dionysia iranshahrii and on to the sun-loving, Mediterranean, viciously thorny Vella spinosa.

Corydalis is one of my favourite genera and a three-pan entry by Charnwood Forest Trophy winner Don Peace really shone out. This was a perfectly presented trio of plants, with the burgundy red-spurred and cream-petalled Corydalis ‘Lentune Rouge’ contrasting brilliantly with the bright red C. ‘Lentune Scarlet’. The third plant is this trio was Corydalis kusnetzovii which is found above 1,000m in the west part of the main Caucasus range.

An equally impressive winner of its class was Corydalis sewerzowii, which Peter Hood had raised from seed sown in June 2013. This unusually-coloured, tuberous species is from the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. One of the keys to growing this tricky plant successfully is to plant the tubers deep in long tom pots, atop a free-draining, gritty compost.

Winner of the American Trophy for the best plant native to the Americas was Trillium nivale, shown by Alan Spenceley. This large plant was covered in over 100 pure white blooms, all in prime condition. This specimen has been exhibited on a regular basis over the past decade and more years. It must be one of the largest and best-grown examples of the species in the country. In its native North America, it grows on limestone soils from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and is a classic indicator that spring is on its way.

One of the more rarely seen plants at Loughborough was the beautifully strange and diminutive Scoliopus hallii, shown by Bob Worsley. Entered in the small Open Section, it nevertheless constituted a mature example of the species, with dozens of dull cream flowers with purple-brown markings, tucked just inside the leaf pairs. Unlike most members of the Liliaceae, Scoliopus has diminutive flowers with only three stamens and its seeds are dispersed by ants (myrmecochory). The possibly less popular Scoliopus hallii differs from its cousin S. bigelovii in being smaller with mostly un-mottled, glossy green leaves. The compost used for this species should be well drained and contain a good percentage of sterilised, sieved leaf-mould, reflecting its habitat – the the cool, moist, mixed coniferous-deciduous woodland slopes of western Oregon

A very large, superbly grown potful of Crocus vernus grown by Vic and Jan Aspland deservedly won the Webster Trophy for the best plant native to Europe. This snow-melt species had over 80 pure white flowers with purplish throats sitting above the stiff, emerging foliage. The exhibit had a real natural aura, as if you had just stumbled across a colony in the wild. The group originated from a single corm, first grown 27 years ago. The potting medium used is a lean concreting sand (untreated: check first!), with a proportion of John Innes No.2 added. The liquid fertiliser Tomarite is administered occasionally, once when the leaves have fully developed.

As is normal at this time of year, Dionysia was well represented, with several species and hybrids filling their classes. The rarely seen Dionysia revoluta subsp. revoluta, shown by Mark Childerhouse, particularly caught my eye. It was awarded the Richard Regan Trophy for the best plant in a pan not exceeding 19cm. This species can quickly look lax and leggy with a surfeit of dead growth. Yet this one was reasonably compact with each green rosette topped by deep yellow flowers. Mark said that careful, brave pruning in several stages was the key to keeping this Dionysia looking so good. The species is from SW Iran, where it typically grows on shady limestone cliffs and overhangs at altitudes of 1,800-3,000m. A very impressive large pot of Dionysia aretioides, completely covered in golden-yellow flowers and shown by Frank and Barbara Hoyle, was awarded a Certificate of Merit. This fantastically grown Dionysia hardly had a single bloom out of place and every one was in prime condition.

The unmistakable star of the show and winner of the Farrer Medal was a superb Irisnusairiensis, again shown by Frank and Barbara Hoyle. This juno is endemic to a very limited area of coastal mountains in Syria including Jabal Nusairi. According to the ICUN Red List, it is critically endangered, with populations continuing to decline in the wild. I have not seen a better-grown example of this species. This clump had produced over 30 exquisite pale Cambridge blue flowers with cream ridges to the somewhat frilly falls, contrasting perfectly with the equally fine, bright green foliage.

Another great entry (and recipient of a Certificate of Merit, Fritillaria gibbosa, grown by John Kemp, was full of stems covered in the horizontally-displayed, pale apricot pink, tessellated flowers. This member of the Rhinopetalum group is from the mountains of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, growing in stony exposed conditions at altitudes above 1,000m.

Both the Novice and Intermediate Sections were well supported. Steve Clements’ perfectly presented three pots of Ophrys (O. sicula, O. tenthredinifera and O. sphegodes) were widely admired. Each had three stems, the flowers of the different species subtly contrasting with each other. It was good to see him win the Beacon Trophy for the highest aggregate score in the Novice Section.

Yet again Ben and Paddy Parmee showed some excellent plants, their Galanthus ‘Polar Bear’ standing out. This late-flowering elwesii hybrid, renowned for having very large bulbs, had a good number of plump, roundish flowers above glaucous green leaves. They also had a nice three-pan of contrasting cream-coloured Narcissus that won its class.

The AGS medal was awarded to Don Peace for his impeccably grown six-pan of rock plants. This sextet included a very nice Scilla x allenii (a naturally-occurring hybrid sometimes given as x Chionoscilla),  Fritillaria conica grown from seed sown in September 2013 and that exquisite snowmelt plant from Monte Baldo, Callianthemum kernerianum.

Unfortunately, saxifrages were again not that well represented. However, one of my favourites was shown by Mark Childerhouse. Saxifraga x hornibrookii ‘Riverslea’ is a very distinctive Porophyllum hybrid between S. lilacina and S. stribrnyi. The bell-shaped flowers, of an unusual deep pink, are held on pinkish-green stems covered in red, sticky glandular hairs. This is an old hybrid, produced by the great Saxifraga enthusiast Russell V. Prichard back in 1925. It is encouraging that some of these old cultivars continue to be grown. Many can still hold their heads high against the numerous and popular modern cultivars.

Author: Simon Wallis
Photographers: Jon Evans, Don Peace