My early morning car journey from the south part of Somerset up through Devon’s rural countryside revealed evidence of the recent heavy snow drifts that still remained at the foot of many of the hedgerows. I could not help but wonder what the effects of the countrywide severe cold weather would have on entries.
This is the second year that this show has been held at RHS Rosemoor but the first time that it has been accommodated in their brand new Garden Room. It should be emphasised that this is an excellent, sizeable venue that benefits from very high light levels along with temperature and humidity controls, these suiting both plants and visitors.
The capacious hall permits wide aisles in between the show benches, allowing comfortable, accessible viewing. In addition the size of the hall is such that the busy trade stands were also accommodated in very close proximity. Another benefit of this venue is that the large numbers of the public who visit the garden are also likely tempted to inspect the well-advertised show. Another spin-off for members and visitors is that there is the chance to spend time in this notable garden and maybe also visit the excellent restaurant. Finally, I would add that this show boasts what are without doubt the best ‘loo’ facilities on the AGS Show circuit that this reporter has encountered!
Following on closely from the two bouts of severe snow and very low temperatures, it was pleasantly surprised to find the show benches packed with an impressive array of plants. All credit due to the many exhibitors, some of whom had travelled considerable distances. Interestingly – the Novice Section attracted an increased entry on previous years, including several very well-grown plants that would have given exhibitors in both the Open and Intermediate Sections a run for their money. It is informative to overhear visitors comments as they pass along the show benches and complimentary remarks were very much the order of the day.
Rannveig and Bob Wallis continued their run of Farrer Medal wins, this time with Corydalis darwasica, included in their large six-pan entry.
The remaining five plants, all first rate, comprised Scilla (Chionodoxa) luciliae, Erythronium californium, Corydalis erdelii subsp. kurdica, Scilla melaina and Narcissus fernandesii. The ensemble received an RHS Sewell Medal. Such was their continued success that they also took home the Veitch Trophy. Their many other prize winning entries throughout the length of the benches contributed to what can best be described as a tour de force.
Comments on the entries in the Novice Section quite frequently form the tail-end of show reports, sadly in the main due to declining support. But I am happy to contradict this trend by highlighting a series of high quality bulbous entries, all in character, all presented in pristine pots and all immaculately top-dressed courtesy of the same exhibitor, Colin Everett. He entered a series of Fritillaria species, namely Fritillaria amana, F. elwesii, F. ehrhartii and two pans of F. aff. pinardii (seed from Gothenburg Botanical Garden sown in 2012 and 2013 respectively), all deservedly earning their red cards and on top of these the Dartington and Otter Trophies. I predict that this exhibitor is likely to move rapidly to the senior sections!
Sometimes being in the right place at the right time permits a show reporter to add something in addition to purely plant-related comments. Following several tours of the show benches I had already made up my mind to include Viola chaerophylloides ‘Beni-Zuro’ (Benizuro) but return visits enabled me to overhear numerous comments from fellow exhibitors and the visiting public alike.
I can categorically confirm that this entry was certainly the plant that everyone wanted to take home. It is a rather rare Japanese cultivar with dissected leaves, the stems pinkish, the flowers bright magenta-mauve. It enjoys a moist, well-drained compost in sun to dappled shade. Apparently the seeds do not require a cold spell to germinate but a cold winter triggers a generous flowering. Exhibited by Millwood Plants, it had been raised from seed obtained from Japan and sown in 2014. The almost sessile flowers settled among attractive, apple-green, fern-like foliage and had a diminutive appeal. Over time the flowering stems extend to some 15cm.
Ever an Ericaceae enthusiast, I typically seek out something that does not regularly adorn our show benches. Roger Clark has a habit of providing something to fulfil this criterion. His ‘dwarf’ Rhododendron baihuanense JN11050 is a new introduction from a seed collection made by Jens Neilsen in 2011 from the eastern side of the Yunnanese Gaoligong mountains at 2,600m. Reddish stems and funnel-shaped, white flowers above leaves with glaucous undersides complete the description. This species is likely to outstrip pot culture. It requires an acidic, humus-rich compost and had been grown in a cold greenhouse.
Appreciating similar conditions, the Vietnamese Primula nghialoensis was exhibited by Dick Fulcher, who has had professional gardening spells at RBGE and Inverewe and has made several seed-collecting trips, in the main concentrating on rhododendrons and allied plants. My interest in this little-known species with its pale bluish-purple flowers was to see how it had progressed since its show bench last year. In answer it had increased but had not relished the very recent cold spell, despite its polytunnel home! This time more sparsely flowered and with its striking foliage somewhat spoiled at the edges, it was nonetheless a fine exhibit. It is worth quoting the unusual method of propagation, given in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 27, June 2010, pages 132-135: ‘after flowering, each scape starts to grow a new plant, slowly bending over until it touches the ground – rooting then occurs immediately above the bracts’.
Currently under the guise of Primula henrici is a species I am aware has featured in other show reports but on this occasion was particularly well-flowered specimen. Its owner, Peter Hood, has found that a standard Asiatic Primula compost is unsuitable and has settled on one of equal parts John Innes no. 2, grit, sand, perlite and vermiculite, kept dryish from mid-autumn to late winter. It is obviously quite a good doer, given such conditions, for it is presently found in quite a few specialist collections.
A mighty pot of pinkish-flowered Fritillaria stenanthera from George Elder attracted much attention. I have been around long enough to remember when we all got excited by a single flowering bulb in the 1980s. In this instance it was multi-flowered (too many to count), the seed sown in 2000: its Certificate of Merit was well-deserved. To my surprise I could detect no scent.
Primula allionii and its numerous cultivars always attract attention and comment. There are numerous new additions that do much to whet the appetite but for me the reliable, long lived selections from the Margaret Earle/Kenneth Wooster era still hold their own. As such my selection from the many exhibits on display was Primula allionii ‘William Earle’, again from Peter Hood. A gritty compost with a fairly deep collar of grit together with careful watering do much to ensure success, as does the careful removal of dead leaves at the end of the growing season. An as seen vigorous hybrid that attracted favourable comment was the cream Primula ‘Blindsee’, exhibited by Gill & Paul Ranson. Named after the Blindsee, an Austrian lake, it is one of several sister seedlings, all of them worth obtaining.
Even more patience was evidenced by another grower: George Elder’s desirable Iris rosenbachiana had been grown from seed sown in November 1998 (only 20 years!) Other award plants included Ian Robertson’s Tulipa cretica ‘Dikti’, which earned him the East Devon Trophy, while an excellent, in-character pan of Tecophilaea cyanocrocuslikewise secured the Cornwall Trophy for Jim Loring. I counted 36 Dionysia entries, numerous saxifrages and a considerable number of ‘dwarf’ conifers which along with all the other entries resulted in a notable show.
Finally, thanks to show secretaries Jon & Kana Webster and their very efficient team. I should add that during the day a series of three practical workshops took place, very much with the visiting public in mind and covering the topics ‘Getting started with alpines’, ‘Trough planting’ and ‘Easy alpine propagation’.
Author: John Sanders
Photographer: Jon Evans