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Loughborough Spring 2018

March 10, 2018

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

Loughborough Spring Show 2018

The ‘Beast from the East’ had dominated the news and weather forecasts for the previous two weeks as well as forcing the cancellation of the Harlow Show. The only surprise was that there were some ‘new’ plants to be seen as well as ‘repeats’ from the February shows! The snow and cold wind gave way to milder conditions, enabling 70 exhibitors to stage a combined entry just short of 500 exhibits. The nurseries had a busy day and the public ensured the obligatory Loughborough scrum ensued once the show opened. A Gold Award-winning display of silver saxifrages, assembled by Adrian Young adjacent to the competitive show, included a substantial number of recently-raised, very promising cultivars.

Corydalis verticillaris Corydalis erdelii

Bob and Rannveig Wallis dominated the bulbous classes, taking the Open Section aggregate and collected their third consecutive Farrer Medal of the year with a fantastic Corydalis verticillaris. Despite the very different conditions found in the mountains of Iran compared with south-west Wales, it is clearly very much at home in one of their alpine houses. The plant was grown from seed gathered in the eastern Elburz Mts. The characteristically long spurred flowers can vary from creamy white to purple and white and also in size, as demonstrated by their less showy plant of subsp. parviflora in a small pan class.

They brought several other choice representatives of this fashionable genus: in particular a lovely deep colour form of C. erdelii caught my eye, as it did theirs a few years ago! This Turkish species has rather small flowers which lack ‘wings’ on the upper and lower petals.  The colour is fairly constant with a dark tip to the inner petals but the spur can vary in the intensity of its maroon coloration. This superb selection was spotted in a batch of seedlings and singled out.

These plants are repotted every other year in a gritty mix of John Innes no. 2.  Kept in an alpine house in full sun all year round, water is withheld from early May (when the top growth dies down) until December. This discourages them from coming into growth too early and encountering poor bad light (and hence getting drawn). It also lessens the risk of frost damage to the emerging stems.  Watering needs to be regular, even copious, while they are in growth, emulating their native snow-melt habitat.  Individual tubers rarely multiply naturally so new stock is best raised from seed, to produce which two clones are required. It should be sown as soon as it is ripe and will then germinate the following spring.

Dionysia freitagii Derek Pickard Loughbrorough

Dionysia freitagii (Exhibitor: Derek Pickard)

The Richard Regan Trophy for the best plant in a pan not exceeding 19cm was once again awarded to Derek Pickard, this time for a plant of Dionysia freitagii. Derek has been selecting seedlings for quite a few years with a quest for ‘red’ flowers in mind. He had two plants at the show, both of which stubbornly matched ‘red-purple 63B/C’ using the RHS Colour Chart. There is still more sowing to be done! Roughly equal quantities sharp sand, perlite, vermiculite, leaf-mould or its equivalent and John Innes no. 3 make up the standard potting mix for his plants. He considers the two prerequisites for successful cultivation are perfect ventilation and good light. Five electric fans are in use continuously to maintain a buoyant, dry atmosphere and the plants sited where the scorching effects of direct sun are just about eliminated.

Primula allionii Francis Burrow Geoff Rollinson C of M Loughbrorough

Primula allionii ‘ Francis Burrow’ (Exhibitor: Geoff Rollinson)

The large Open Section entries, somewhat reduced, included some excellent plants, one of them a deep pink mound shining out like a beacon across the hall. Primula allionii‘ Francis Burrow’, a lovely thrum-eyed creation raised by Brian Burrow, was duly awarded a Certificate of Merit. Geoff Rollinson routinely makes light work of bringing Brian’s creations to maturity but they are not for growers in a hurry! Eight years of patient cultivation using a standard mix of one part John Innes no. 3, one part leaf-mould and three parts grit, coupled with good light in an alpine house, serve to keep the cushion tight. Successive repotting, regular turning of the clay pots in their sand plunge and a strictly controlled watering regime all help to achieve a perfect dome. The flowers are then virtually guaranteed come show day but it’s the patient ‘long haul’ in between that counts.

Hepatica acutiloba Bob Worsley Hepatica japonica Orihime Bob Worsley

Bob Worsley has steadily been making his presence known in the Open Section with a great range of plants ‘looking good’ on the day and was persuaded to enter the small six-pan class, convincingly winning his first AGS Medal. He also took the American Trophy for the best plant native to the Americas with Hepatica acutiloba, one of the many fine representatives of this genus he staged. Bought from a nursery in September 2012, it has now come of age, the numerous bolt upright, downy stems supporting a blanket of white flowers.

The neat double, H. japonica ‘Orihime’, was obtained by Bob from National Collection holder Glenn Shapiro at one of her open days in 2013. Although not quite ready even the day before the show, it was taken to an AGS meeting that evening and placed on the display table. As a reward, the flowers were brought on perfectly by the warmth of the room. This cultivar does not seem to flop as much as some of the other doubles. The potting mix used for all his hepaticas is equal parts of John Innes no. 2, leaf-mould and perlite (or sometimes grit). Most are grown in clay pots, plunged in sand in a well-ventilated greenhouse, which is only closed down on frosty nights (and of late, days!)  The plants are watered liberally during the spring and regularly through to the autumn but less so in the winter, until they come into growth. They must never be allowed to dry out, and this is particularly important in the case of H. acutiloba.  Shading in the form of netting is deployed during the summer, and then removed during the winter and early spring in an attempt to replicate a deciduous woodland environment. Despite not always being repotted on an annual basis, the occasional application of liquid tomato fertiliser keeps the plants flowering well.

Saxifraga Allendale Charm Mark Childerhouse Saxifraga gp salver Loughbrorough

Saxifraga 'Allendale Charm' (Exhibitor: Mark Childerhouse)

Normally one of the mainstay genera at the show, Saxifragarepresentatives were few and far between this year. Mark Childerhouse conjured up a well-flowered pan of Saxifraga‘Allendale Charm’ to win the Saxifraga Group Salver. This is one of the tremendous Swing Group (S. poluniniana x S. wendelboi) hybrids, these plants coupling the tight, hard cushion of S. wendelboi with the ‘flower power’ and wonderful pink flush from S. poluniniana.  All of this group seem capable of flowering well even in what is considered a poor saxifrage season. Ray Fairbairn S. ‘Allendale Charm’ in 1994 and it remains a very popular plant, being relatively easy to please, long-lived and reliable in flower.  It receives the usual saxifrage fare of a lean, gritty compost, exposure to as much light and air as possible, plus shading during the hottest months. It is seen at its best when the buds first open and still hold a delightful fresh candy pink colour which soon fades as the flowers age.

Iris reticulata White Caucasus Robert Rolfe Loughbrorough

Iris reticulata ;White Caucasus' (Exhibitor: Robert Rolfe)

Just four days earlier, this year’s Royal Bank of Scotland Award winner, the Armenian Iris reticulata ‘White Caucausus’, had demonstrated little sign of stirring for Robert Rolfe, the buds still green and nestling at the base of the greyish leaves. But brought indoors and watered thoroughly, then left in dark room with the heating on low overnight, its spring surge was triggered. Now with a two decade plus tenure in cultivation, it is still too little seen. And yet it multiplies steadily (the six year old clump had developed from three small bulbs) and is also fertile – though a five year old offspring shown to the exhibitor later on was deep-violet. Very few other white forms are recorded, so sourcing an albino mate is highly unlikely. The bulbs appear to enjoy being planted fairly deep (10cm or more) and the pot chosen was accordingly as tall as the long toms housing rival junos in the same class, but with a tapered rather than a straight-sided profile.

Crocus pelistericus MESE 380 John Dixon Loughbrorough

Crocus pelistericus MESE 380 (Exhibitor: John Dixon)

Nearly two decades have passed since seed collected of Crocus pelistericus from the MESE trip (MESE 380) first appeared in the AGS exchange. John Dixon was one of the fortunate recipients and when 15 of the 18 seeds sown in January 2000 germinated, he was determined to maintain and increase this superb high altitude species.

Perceived wisdom, for anyone living outside Scotland, has been to stand the pots in a tray of water throughout the summer, presumably influenced by photographs of the crocus flowering through running water. John never liked the idea of leaving the corms in stagnant water, so this advice was ignored.  The plants live in plastic pots, in compost ‘as near as I can get’ to the magical combination of free-draining but water-retentive, (roughly John Innes no. 2, grit, sand and peat or similar in equal parts). The north-facing, open frame they live in receives a little direct early and late sun in summer and whilst walking by when it’s not freezing, some water is thrown over the pots.  The plants are open to the weather for much of the year, only being brought under cover when the flowers are about to open, (for the purposes of exhibition and pollination), or when really severe weather threatens.

Flowering is usually towards the end of the ‘spring’ crocus spectrum.  However, in recent years the first flowers have opened anytime from the end of November to early March. Annoyingly from the point of view of exhibiting the plant, C. pelistericus appears to be a sequential flowerer. At first this was thought to be due to variation between the seedlings but pots with offsets from a single clone behave in exactly the same manner.  Stock is easily increased from seed derived from the original seedlings and is easily set after a helping hand with a paintbrush! The seedpods stay deep inside the almost evergreen foliage until suddenly bursting through on rapidly elongating stems towards the end of summer. Left open to the elements over winter, seed germinates sporadically over a couple of years, rarely later. Timing is critical when it comes to dividing/repotting the mat of corms formed and after trial and error, the last week of September or the first week of October has been identified as optimal. Keeping the pots cool and damp is critical. C. pelistericus will never be easy but treating it as a damp-loving alpine plant can work.  Just don’t stand it in a tray…

Aeonium tabuliforme John Richards Loughbrorough

Aeonium tabuliforme (Exhibitor: John Richards)

We have become accustomed to embracing mountain plants at shows in recent years from unexpected parts of the world. Aeonium tabuliforme is endemic to north-west and north-central parts of Tenerife where it grows on vertical volcanic rock faces (often road cuttings) in partial to complete shade. These are often damp but you should avoid water dripping on your plants in the alpine house. It is said to grow down to sea-level, but most sites are from 500-1,000 m in altitude. Rather undistinguished greyish white flowers are produced in summer on tall racemes but for the rest of the year it makes an attractive foliage plant. John Richards brought this Aeonium to the attention of a wider audience, exhibiting a mature plant. It is easily raised from seed, and will grow well in a plastic pot in equal parts of John Innes no. 3, alpine grit and perlite. The compost is kept damp throughout the year, with no feeding or overhead watering and a youngster will form a mature rosette in two years. The show plant lives in an unheated glazed porch where temperatures regularly drop to -4 C or so. Another plant lives on the floor of the alpine house where it is watered less in winter and experienced -7 to -8 C this winter (It is said to be hardy to -10C.)

Pyrrosia drakeana Don Peace

Pyrrosia drakeana (Exhibitor: Don Peace)

The attractive fronds of Pyrrosia drakeana have proven a useful addition to the diverse array of plants brought along to shows by Don Peace. His plant received a Preliminary Commendation when shown to ‘Joint Rock’ in October 2017 at the Newcastle (Ponteland) Show. A species from sheltered situations in the mountains of China at 1,500–3,500 m, it has grown well in the North East, and like with the similar P. sheareri it is given no special treatment other than protection under glass in the winter. Both species require a gritty mix, the precise ingredients being unimportant. The latter species has survived the recent winter, stood outside unplunged and covered with snow on occasions. A hardy plant indeed!

The aggregate award in the Intermediate Section was won by Ben and Paddy Parmee, while Steven Squires took the award for the Novice Section, where an exceptional orchid grown by Steve Clements won the best plant. His Ophrys tenthredinifera was admired by all and had been started from a single bulb, obtained four years previously. Grown under cold glass, a potting mix of 50:50 pumice and sand is used with no organic matter. The only feeding is using ‘Akerne Orchid rain mix’ developed for use with rain water. This was Steve’s first show; one hopes that he will exhibit at many more.

Narcissus cantabricus Nigel Fuller Loughbrorough

Narcissus cantabricus (Exhibitor: Nigel Fuller)

And finally, spare a thought for Mike Chadwick and Nigel Fuller, seriously delayed by a traffic incident. Their exhibits were nevertheless staged long after judging had commenced, forming a very impressive non-competitive display. Nigel’s pan of Narcissus cantabricus gave the judges licence to award a further Certificate of Merit. It might have been easier to have turned around and head home but the show mentality kicked in… come on in exhibitor number 71, we’ve been expecting you!


Author: Jim Almond
Photographers: Jim Almond and Jon Evans