July is never an easy time of year to guarantee a good AGS show, due to the vagaries of the weather, the British involvement in the sporting calendar and it also being a time when exhibitors visit the native lands of many of their horticultural charges. This, however, was a well-stocked and pleasingly interesting show.
The time of year often makes this a ‘foliage show’ with the Glebelands Trophy awarded for the ‘plant with the most attractive foliage’; how judges love awards that involve an element of interpretation. A number of worthy contenders were assembled, any of which would have been justifiable winners but the eventual ‘beauty queen’ was Lee and Julie Martin’s Eucomis vandermerwei. The large potful of clonally identical individuals gave a uniform and balanced effect sometimes lost in seed-raised entries. This is a narrow endemic of high-altitude hill slopes in its native South Africa on well drained, acid, sandy soils, hardy to at least -5°C if excess moisture in winter can be avoided.
Another South African plant with attractive foliage but this time with equally attractive flowers was Ledebouria socialis, presented to the assembled RHS Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee which was sitting at this show. Shown by John and Clare Dower, it received a Cultural Commendation. Grown for many years as Scilla socialis, it responds to the same treatment as the Eucomis but is less tolerant of low temperatures. A well-drained, acid sandy soil is also a requirement of a selected entry in the Cactaceae class. Echinopsis subdenudata, shown by David Charlton, with three perfect, crystalline white flowers, will reportedly withstand near-freezing temperatures in winter if kept bone dry (its water-filled body cannot survive freezing, serious cellular damage resulting in death), replicating its dormancy on mountainous slopes in its native Bolivia. The plus side is that it can take 30°C in its stride, a bonus in our ever-changing summer climate.
The Wessex Water Trophy, awarded to the best plant in the Novice Section, this year went to a plant of Saxifraga caucasica, shown by the newly ensconced show secretary Razvan Chisu. The perfect hemisphere of foliage and the known difficulties in growing this Caucasus native made the selection quite straightforward amongst several other worthy alternatives.
The Dudfield Cup for the most points in the section was won by Steve Clements with a good selection of interesting plants including a substantial pot full of Epipactis ‘Passionata’. He also exhibited a seldom grown Himalayan orchid, Spathoglottis ixioides, which seemingly requires the same cultivation techniques as Pleione, needing frost-free conditions when dormant in winter. The Florence Baker Memorial Trophy is awarded to the winner of the Intermediate Section aggregate, Lesley Travis. Open Section exhibitors beware, there are some very good plants on their way.
Four Certificates of Merit were awarded, two going to Pelargonium species. The first (and no stranger to awards) was George Elder’s Pelargonium auritum subsp. carneum, a specimen well recorded over the years but this time shown at an all-time high. The second, P. endlicherianum, was part of Lee and Julie Martin’s haul which helped in attaining the Hilliard Cup for the most points in the Open Section. It should be noted that this was not the specimen which took the Farrer Medal at the same show last year but a completely different clone. It would appear that at least two very distinct forms of this Turkish denizen are in cultivation; a cotton candy pink version (the aforementioned previous Farrer Medallist) and this darker, rosy-pink form selected as a seedling from a KPPS seed collection. Fully hardy if a warm, dry spot can be found. It is also excellent for container use.
Campanulaceae always feature heavily at this show, two members of this family receiving the other two Certificates. The first, a venerable plant of Campanula fragilis shown by Edward Spencer, was underpinned by brittle stems forming a dome under the large, outward facing violet-blue, white centred flowers. Just getting such a large specimen plant to a show unscathed (the brittle harebell in the vernacular is well chosen) is worthy of praise.
The second, Favratia zoysii (Ian Instone), once enjoying the more familiar name of Campanula zoysii but clearly the oddball of the family, held itself with the poise associated with seeing it in the wild. After hours of fruitless searching for it in its native Julian Alps, I almost trod on a plant while getting out of the cable car at the Vogel ski centre carpark. This is fairly easy to grow but a challenge to get to any size, greenfly infestation and moisture in the cushion being its main pitfalls in cultivation.
Staying on the Campanulaceae theme, another couple of plants caught the eye. Put forward by Paul and Gill Ranson for assessment by the Joint Rock Committee (who opted for an Award of Merit), Campanula ‘Blue Pearl’ was both raised and named by Martin Sheader. A harmonious match between Greece and Turkey, for it is a cross between Campanula myrtifolia and C. asperuloides. Several seedlings were selected, this one a soft pastel grey/blue. It retains the tight appearance of C. asperuloides whilst exhibiting the free-flowering and growth reflecting hybrid vigour.
The other was Campanula topaliana, shown by Peter Farkash. A biennial Grecian bell flower, the stems of which hug tightly any surfaces they touch, this specimen had already been in good flower for over two weeks. A couple of hundred spent flowers were removed the night before, yet there were still many more buds in place.
In his scholarly book Botanical Latin, William Stern cites the Greek word ‘pogon’ as meaning ‘beard’ and ‘ophio’ as ‘pertaining to snakes’. Put the two words together and hey presto, one gets the generic name Pogonia and the epithet ophioglossoides. In the class for one pan Orchidaceae excluding Dactylorhiza, a lovely, pale and delicate clump of the Snakehead Orchid won first place for Steve Clements. There are two species in the genus, North American P. ophioglossoides distributed down the eastern side from Canada to Florida and Texas, in neutral to acid peaty bogs and wet places. These conditions pertain in cultivation, emphasised by the pot of the plant on show standing in a shallow saucer of water. The other species is native to Asia, in case you were wondering, occurring in Japan, Korea and widely in China, including that nowadays oft-visited province, Yunnan.
The plant awarded best in show and the Farrer Medal was, pleasingly, a commonly grown garden plant – but grown and exhibited to perfection. Shown as Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccinea’ by Chris Lilley but best treated as T. Coccineus Group, the latest name reflects the taxonomic confusion present in this group of plants. The panful showed very little of the typical thyme foliage as, it seemed, every stem was topped with a bright cerise flowerhead, each at its peak for only two to three days. Chris informed me that this was the fourth Farrer he had won with a common-or-garden plant, demonstrating that rarity and deep pockets aren’t always the route to success.
A small Artistic Section still occupies an area of the show hall, a welcome and inviting adjunct to the show, where members can show off their painting, drawing and needlework skills, from botanically accurate studies to inventive pieces ‘inspired by alpines’. The Dawson Trophy for the Open Section went to Caroline Jackson-Houlston, who featured some incredible botanical studies. The Art Award was won by Gemma Hayes for the most points in the Intermediate Section. Thanks must go to Razvan Chisu and his team of helpers for the time and effort put into the show.
Author: Ray Drew
Photographer: Jon Evans