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Northumberland 2018

April 14, 2018

See some of the plants exhibited at the AGS/SRGC Northumberland Show 2018.

I need not remind anybody of the atrocious weather we have experienced so far this year (as I write this, temperatures and rainfall seem to be returning to normal), the weather showing a marked period of depression, mirrored by the human condition. Entries were unsurprisingly down on last year but pleasingly visitor numbers were up. This year’s Northumberland show was conducted under SRGC rules, which caused a few issues for a number of entrants – frantic movement of ‘tuberous’ monocots into non-bulbous classes and the reverse for Corydalis to ensure the lack of NAS comments. Interestingly and perhaps worth mentioning for future jointly judged shows, was the ‘down-pointing’ of a fern shown in the small six-pan in Section 1 (Open Section); SRGC rules insist that any plant not in fruit or flower will receive a maximum of half the points allocated for ‘condition’ – exhibitors be warned!

Hepatica Millstream Merlin

Hepatica 'Millstream Merlin' (Exhibitor: Maggie Duguid)

It was also pleasing to see that subsection 3 of section 2 (Novice section in AGS parlance) had 13 plants in 10 classes from 4 exhibitors (too often these days we see shows with empty benching), the aggregate winner of which was Iain Mathewson who walked off with the Cyril Barnes Trophy with Bob Braithwaite taking the Northumberland Cup for a ‘first’ in class 170; one pan rock plant shown by a new exhibitor.  A plant of note from this section, Hepatica x media ‘Millstream Merlin, was shown by Maggie Duguid, a first time exhibitor who only joined the society last year.  The intermediate section aggregate winner ( section 2, sub-sections 1 & 2 combined) which resulted in the award of the Gordon Harris cup  and an SRGC Bronze medal was Christine Boulby, the 5 classes she entered returned 4 ‘Firsts’ and one ‘Second’, a result to be proud of.

Androsace idahoensis x laevigata

Androsace idahoensis x laevigata (Exhibitor: Tommy Anderson)

The Sandhoe trophy, for the best plant in a pan not exceeding 19cm had several worthy combatants. The final verdict of the judges gave a plant of Androcase idahoensis x laevigata the edge. Shown by Tommy Anderson, the 3-year old plant was growing in a mixture of 50% grit, 30% JI No3 and 10% each of fine bark and perlite. Several attempts at striking cuttings has resulted in very few ‘takes’ so the risky business of repotting is only performed when needed.

Daphne modesta (Exhibitor: Lionel Clarkson)

Daphne modesta (Exhibitor: Lionel Clarkson)

A Certificate of merit was awarded to a superb plant of Daphne modesta, shown by Lionel Clarkson which was in the final line-up of the aforementioned trophy, being just out-voted in the final phase. Lionel grows his plant in a very open mix consisting 25% JI No3, 25% very fine pine bark (Melcourt) and 50% grit, fed on ‘Tomorite’ with infrequent repotting.


Another of the runners-up to this award was the elegantly tendrilous Fritillaria yuminensis var roseoflora, shown by George Young. A plant of forest margins and open gravelly slopes from north-western Xinjiang, the varietal name being sunk into the nominate species in 1989 but once described plants with a pink hue as exhibited; the original bulb was thought to have originated in the stable of Kath Dryden, many years ago and now occupies a position in a shade frame, half-plunged and repotted annually in autumn into a mix of JI No2, grit and fine composted bark.

Caltha x ‘Moonshine’ (Exhibitor: Graeme Butler)

Caltha x ‘Moonshine’ (Exhibitor: Graeme Butler)

A plant described in the 2016 Northumberland show report as ‘one to watch’ was Caltha x ‘Moonshine’, raised by Graeme Butler from Rumbling Bridge Nursery, a chance result of open-pollination (Caltha polypetala x leptosepala) which has resulted in a plant of great horticultural merit, with all the good traits of both parents being transferred  – if only this always happened.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that David Boyd was putting plants on the bench, sadly all we have left now are the memories and the David Boyd Award (class 46 – 6 varieties of cut alpine flowers, including dwarf shrubs grown by the exhibitor) to remember him by, this year the award went to Fred and Pat Bundy.

With no large-pan 6-pan entry and only a second-place awarded in the small six-pan, the aggregate prize for Section 1 (Open Section) was made a harder task to achieve, undeterred by the rule interpretation, Don Peace took the RB Cooke Plate for the most First prize points.

Pyrrosia drakeana

Pyrrosia drakeana (Exhibitor: Don Peace)

One of Don’s plants, reported on before but worth another mention because of its increased excellence was the very un-fernlike-fern Pyrrosia drakeana, the new fronds poking through the top-dressing like coiled octopus tentacles. Growing without protection in an outside frame, Don describes the growing medium as ‘old frit compost with a third of added grit’; recycling at its best.

Rhodoendron dendrocharis Saxifraga retusa ssp augustana_Forrest Medal

The Ralph Hayward Memorial Trophy is a travelling award for the best Dwarf Shrub, going this year to a stunning plant of Rhododendron dendrocharis. Described as ‘often epiphytic’ in the Flora of China, the exhibitor, Alan Furness added some ‘Hydroleca’ which he had laying around to the bottom of the pot to obviously great effect; the added drainage layer ensuring the roots never become over-wet in his ‘mix’ which he confesses changes with successive re-pottings.

Alan also took the premier award with Saxifraga retusa subsp. augustana, a plant which I can only describe as one of the best Forrest Medal plants I had ever seen. This started life planted in a sand bed on the north side of a boulder but never really settled. Alan transferred the plant to a pot around 5 or 6 years ago in what he described as ‘dirty sand’ with the occasional admix of some Q4 fertiliser and it hasn’t looked back since.

RBGE Display - Gold Medal51123

RBGE Display - Gold Medal

Three non-competitive displays adorned the far wall of the copious show hall; it houses the trade stands as well making for a hubbub of activity from early morning till chucking-out time.

One, a stalwart of the Northumberland show, was a display by RBGE. With as fine a collection of Monocots as you could wish to be gathered together, featuring a collection of Iris bucharica showing variation within the species and some good colour forms of Fritillaria eduardii; this attracted a Gold award. The second examined a floral road trip entitled ‘The NC 500’, a tourist route of 500 miles around the north of Scotland with the intent of finding 500 native species along the way. Beautifully portrayed using photographs and a couple of natives plants in pots (Primula scotica and Primula vulgaris). Shown by Mike Dale representing the North East England Group of the AGS, this also received a Gold Award. The third, entitled ‘Plugging the Gaps’ showed the work of the North Pennines area of outstanding beauty project, their aim is to encourage people from all walks of life to collect seed from roadside verges and other flower-rich places, to propagate them and then return year-old ‘plugs’ into local meadows. A worthy project that has already garnered Heritage lottery funding; this received a silver award and a great deal of interest.

So, all-in-all, a great time was to be had. With a tangible happy atmosphere amongst the exhibitors, the gathered audience, both public and member seemed more than happy to exchange coin-for-plant, the nurserymen seemed happy with their lightened homeward journey and the show team looked relieved after what could have been a poor showing based on the weather of late.


Author: Ray Drew

Photographer: Peter Maguire