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Pershore Early 2019

February 23, 2019

A year after the wintry weather of the ‘Beast from the East’ caused the cancellation of one show and imparted a significant chill to those that followed, this year’s Pershore Early Show was held in unseasonably warm sunshine.

Exhibitors in shirtsleeves carried and trundled their entries into this very good venue, which was bursting with flowers newly-opened by the balmy weather.

Curiously, however, while spring was very much on hold during the previous two years of this show’s existence, this time round not only the same species but in some instances the very same plants once again received major awards.

For example, John Dixon won a Certificate of Merit for a large pot of Crocus pelistericus and two more first prizes for 19cm potfuls of the same species. (See the report of the 2018 show, at which it also excelled, for details of its origins and cultivation details.) John also won both the large and small cushion plant classes with immaculate specimens of the tricky Iranian Dionysia esfandiarii.

Diane Clement won a Certificate of Merit for her large, floriferous Ypsilandra thibetica, a Chinese woodland species. This very plant won the Farrer Medal at this show in 2017 – again, consult that report for a full account of its origins and cultivation.

Then for a second year running, glistening pots of Eranthis hyemalis Tubergenii Group ‘Guinea Gold’, exhibited this year by Don Peace, immediately caught the eyes of visitors. This was an excellent example of how quite easily obtained, undemanding plants can, in skilled hands, make superb show exhibits.

The Farrer Medal and the award for the best bulbous plant were awarded to George Elder’s splendid Fritillaria stenanthera. George grew this Central Asian species from seed offered by Jim & Jenny Archibald, sown in 2000. It has proven a vigorous clone that has multiplied well vegetatively, producing a large full pot in perfect flower. Autumn and winter dormant (above ground at least: there is plenty of subsoil activity), it emerges in January and then needs ample water to produce such a spectacle only a few weeks later.

George also exhibited an eye-catching, though single flowered, bright red form of a South African bulb, Daubenya aurea. As its name suggests, this species normally bears yellow flowers but the vibrant colour of this exhibit illuminated the crowded bench on which it sat. Endemic to the Roggeveld of the Northern Cape, it is cold hardy down to -10C, taking from four to six years from seed to reach flowering size. It is summer dormant, emerging into growth in late autumn, after which it requires ample moisture.

Smaller still, and perfectly demonstrating the beauty of small things, was a diminutive Aletes humilis exhibited by Brian Burrow in the class for a plant rare in cultivation. This herbaceous, alpine umbellifer grows high in the Rocky Mountains, forming loose cushions on rock faces and screes. Its tiny yellow flowers on green stems with protruding white anthers were a delight. Grown from seed, this plant is around six years old and is grown in a mix of 60% grit with equal parts of John Innes no. 1 and composted bark. Originally one of three seedlings, could this now be the only representative of this species grown in the UK?

The award for the best plant in the Intermediate and Novice Sections went to Ben and Paddy Parmee for their Corydalis integra. An eastern Mediterranean species of variable colour, this exhibit had white flowers with attractive purple noses. Obtained in 2017 from the collection of the late Bill Squires, it is grown in a gritty mixture in shade in the alpine house. Kept dryish until January, it too burst into full flower only weeks later.

Hepaticas are so popular and so well grown these days that the range of lovely plants on display was no great surprise. Among several exhibited by Bob Worsley was a superb Hepatica henryi which very fittingly – given Ashwood Nurseries’ proprietor John Massey’s great interest in the genus – won the Ashwood Trophy for the best plant in a 19cm pot with a dazzling display of glistening white flowers. This evergreen Chinese species has neatly scalloped leaves, the old ones best removed before the new growth (which is a beautiful shade of bronze) appears in spring.

In sharp contrast to this simple beauty was a highly ornamental form of Hepatica japonica, ‘YuZuru’, exhibited by Anita Acton in the Novice Section. The pink outer petals of the complex double flowers contrasted with their white centres and helped Anita secure the Novice Section aggregate award.

In recent years there has been a welcome enthusiasm for exhibiting miniature gardens. Skill and ingenuity have been deployed to mimick mountain landscapes, the best of these containing surprisingly mature plants growing on tufa with choice small specimens in seasonal flower inserted, sometimes just for that week’s show.

There was some pursing of lips when classes were introduced for miniature gardens in which ‘accessories’ were permitted. But novel, imaginative and sometimes witty exhibits have added to the popular appeal of our shows. The two exhibits at this show may signify that high tide in the use of accessories has been reached. Both were elaborate creations containing a multitude of accessories but with precious few plants and no mature ones. The judges awarded only second and third places, withholding a first prize.

Author: David Charlton
Photographers: Don Peace and Jon Evans