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South Wales 2019

February 17, 2019

As the first of the season, the South Wales AGS Show is always greeted with a great deal ofexcitement. It is a sign that spring is well and truly on its way.

This year, over thirty exhibitors displayed 399 plants, a record for Caerleon. As you would expect from a spring show, the benches were filled with bulbs, Corydalis, Hepatica, Primulaceae, orchids and a multitude ofother plants, both unusual and familiar.

With so many high-quality plants on the benches, it was a surprise to learn that the plant deemed best in show – Ian Robertson’s Crocus vernus (exhibited as C. albiflorus) – was not awarded a Farrer Medal. This may simply have been a case of bad luck on Ian’s part. The award for best in show is usually decided at the very end of the judging process, by which time just a few of the flowers were beginning to fade in the warmth of the hall. Had the plant been considered for the Farrer Medal when it was staged early in the morning, the result would surely have gone Ian’s way.

South Wales is the best show to see spring crocuses. C. nubigena, with its striking black anthers, is a particular favourite of mine and was once again on display. This was previously considered a subspecies of C. biflorus, but was elevated to a species in its own right a few years ago. Also making a return appearance was Bob and Rannveig Wallis’ C. sieberi ‘Tricolor’, a striking plant that is readily available from nurseries and (novice growers will be pleased toknow) easy to grow.

Iris reticulata is another easy bulb and always a highlight of the Caerleon Show. Providing well-drained soil and a deep pot usually leads to success. There is huge variety in the Reticulata Group hybrids and a new one for me this year was Pauline Carless’ I. ‘Painted Lady’. This seemed a very appropriate name, as the different shades of blue looked as if they had been had been applied with a paint brush. Also exhibited, this time by Bob and Rannveig, was I. zagrica, an Iranian species from the Zagros mountains. Just as attractive as the best of I. reticulata, what struck me about this plant was the contrast between the deep purple and bright yellow of the falls.

AGS shows are often graced by photographic and other displays from some of the Society’s more artistically-talented members. Whilst always impressive, these rarely overshadow the plants on show. Jon Evans’ Large Gold-winning display on Fritillaria in cultivation, however, was exceptional, with 274 photos and detailed cultivation notes providing invaluable growing advice.

For those wondering how much effort goes into such a display, it took Jon and his wife, Helen, two hours to set up the boards and that was with the help of a plan of each panel that had been set up and photographed at home. Add in the hours spent photographing all of the plants, processing and printing the images and designing the display and you can see how lucky the Society is to have someone like Jon in our ranks.

It is always worth investigating the class for plants that are new and/or rare in cultivation. The South Wales Show did not disappoint, with Bob and Rannveig exhibiting another Fritillaria, F. oranensis. A species from north Africa, Bob and Rannveig may be the only people (at least in the UK) growing it: other introductions under this name are more likely to be the broader-leaved F. macrocarpa.

Also in this class was Paul and Gill Ranson’s Dionysia MK01221/1 f2 hybrid ex MK9301/3, one of two shown. A recent introduction to cultivation in the UK, it enjoys the (necessarily) meticulous attention of two of the Society’s premier Dionysia growers – the fine weather this year meant that their cushions did not have to be brought into the
show hall under the protection of plastic bowls. Gill was less than complimentary in her description of the Dionysia’s unusual colours, suggesting that they resembled ‘prunes and custard’. Perhaps less divisive in terms of colour scheme was their D. archibaldii JLMS02-87/MK2, which received the Mary Byng Award for best plant in a 19cm pot.

Gill was particularly disappointed not to reclaim the Isca Prize for most first prize points in the Open Section, as returning the picture after last year’s show had left a gap on their wall! Instead it was won by Bob and Rannveig Wallis, in part due to their success in the small six pan class. This included the darkest-flowered of the Tecophilaea cycanocrocus options,‘Violacea’ (‘Leichtlinii’, in comparison, is brighter blue and has a much larger white zone at the centre of the flower). Given that T. cyanocrocus was considered extinct in the wild until a new population was discovered close to Santiago in 2001, and is still vulnerable to habitat loss, it is always a pleasure to see these plants on the benches. Conservation has always been a central objective of the Society and it is great to see that we are much more active in this field through our work at the RSPB’s Haweswater reserve and other projects.

The Galanthus Goblet for best pan of Galanthus is always hotly contested at South Wales, this year being awarded to Don Peace’s eternally popular G. ‘Sophie North’. Bob and Rannveig’s G. transcaucasicus, the other contender, had to be satisfied with a Certificate of Merit. While the Society is home to many galanthophiles, there are also those who see only white flowers with green (or yellow) markings. You could not help but remark on the real variety in Galanthus, however, when you saw the flower arrangement entered by Ben and Paddy Parmee. It contained no fewer than 22 snowdrops, which I am reliably informed is only a tiny sample of the ones growing in their garden. Ben and Paddy also met with success in the 2qIntermediate Section, winning the Gwent Trophy for most first prize points.

The second Certificate of Merit awarded at the show went to Bob Worsley’s Hepatica japonica ‘Utyuu’. Despite being incredibly well-grown, this was not, in my view at least, the most attractive member of that genus on display. My vote went instead to another of his offerings: the much darker-flowered H. japonica ex. Tessin, raised from seed sown in 2013.

Hepaticas could also be found in the encouragingly strong Novice Section, with several exhibitors having their first go at an AGS show. The pink double Hepatica japonica ‘Yu Zuru’, shown by Anita Acton, would surely have been in line for the best plant in section award, had there been one.

Hepatica are at home in both the garden and the alpine house. The key is to provide moist, well-drained soil and partial shade, particularly during the summer.

South Wales also has a class for exhibitors who have not previously won a first at an AGS show. Michael Wild, one of the first-time exhibitors, gained the red sticker in this class with a Corydalis flexuosa exhibited for its foliage. Often overlooked for their foliage, perhaps understandably given the attractiveness of their flowers, many are well worth growing for this feature alone. C. flexuosa is a very good garden plant and if put in the right (sunny but damp) position, will flower throughout the spring and into mid-summer.

One genus that is well-known for having attractive foliage is Cyclamen. Ian Robertson enjoyed typical success in the Large Open Section, with his C. coum arguably being the best of this year’s offering.

Personally, however, I preferred the Cyclamen in the small pan classes. Brenda Nickels showed a C. coum in the Intermediate Section that was very different from Ian’s – pale flowers with deep mauve markings as opposed to a uniform shade of electric pink.

Back in the Open Section, David Richards had a particularly well-presented C. alpinum white form. I always look at other exhibitors’ spring cyclamen with envy. My own were lost to red spider mite a few years ago, yet autumn-flowering C. graecum, which sat alongside them in the alpine house, was untouched. It is such quirks of nature that make growing alpines, whether for shows or in the garden, such a fascinating endeavour for both beginners and experts alike.

Author: Robert Amos
Photographer: Jon Evans