Surprisingly 23 March dawned dry and warmish, with no wind and a promise of sunshine later in the day. What a treat after the recent gales and torrential downpours! On my journey from South Devon to Rosemoor the hedgerows were decked with spring green, long stretches of yellow gorse scented the air, while snowy blackthorn and blossoming pussy willow added to the overall charm. Escaped garden (and wild) daffodils clothed the hedge bottoms and primroses aplenty completed the overall spring display, which was pure joy from beginning to end.
On arrival, I found the show hall buzzing with activity as exhibitors chatted and displayed their plants, creating a rainbow of colour along the benches. At the far end, the nursery stands were thronged with enthusiasts buying as if there was no tomorrow. The 2019 South West Show was up and running in what must be one of the best venues in the country.
Jim McGregor planted a single layer made up of 180+ bulbs of Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuus as closely-packed as possible in a 50/50 mix of John Innes No. 2 and 3mm grit several years ago and waited for them to reach perfection. The result was a 30cm pan of sunshine-yellow, radiating its ‘Look at me!’ beam to everyone entering the show hall. This ‘Kath Dryden Spectacular’ won the Farrer Medal well ahead of any rivals.
Repotted every third year and fed with tomato fertiliser monthly while in growth from the second year onwards, this clump has been built up a single bulb, bought from the late Mike Smith in 1997. Take note all those looking for red stickers: Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuus bulbs are readily available from nurserymen at a reasonable price.
Paul and Gill Ransom displayed a remarkable variety of plants and were awarded the Exeter Trophy for most points in the Open Section. One delightful exhibit was their Pulsatilla grandis, sown in August 2014 and displaying eight perfect pale blue flowers. A small pot of Dionysia zagrica was of particular interest in the rare in cultivation class.
Introduced from Iran at the turn of the century, it is only grown by a handful of specialists. This had been grown in 60% grit; 20% John Innes No.2; 10% perlite (for drainage; it doesn’t hold moisture) and 10% Seramis (also for drainage but also retaining moisture). Keep dryish in summer to avoid lush growth, then water cautiously from late winter to late spring to prevent the buds aborting.
Ian Robertson, noted for his expertise with Cyclamen and Pleione, scored a notable double first. He was awarded an RHS Sewell Medal for a grouping made up of four pans of pleiones, a large pan of Cyclamen pseudibericum f. roseum and a similarly-sized Fritillaria michailovskyi x crassifolia subsp. kurdica and the AGS Medal for a small six-pan consisting of two cyclamen, Narcissus bulbocodium, Romulea bulbocodium; Fritillaria amana and Pleione formosana ‘Avalanche’, all in first class condition.
Most of Ian’s plants are grown from seed that is sown on New Zealand sphagnum moss. The pleiones are kept frost-free and grown on damp capillary matting. Repotted in pine bark and Seramis from Christmas to January, when the flowers develop they are kept just damp, not wet.
Welcome newcomers to this show were Bob and Valerie Brooks from Sandhurst. This is the second year of their obsession with primulas. From their collection of 40 Primula allionii cultivars they brought a selection that swept the board in the Novice Section, winning them the aggregate Dartington Trophy, while Primula ‘Pink Aire’ won the Otter Trophy for the best plant in the Novice Section. We hope they will make the journey again next year to display more of their treasures.
Not to be out classed by exhibitors from afar, a number of local members from the West Country were successful on the show bench. Colin Everett (Somerset) won the Cornwall Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate Section with the Aegean Fritillaria ehrhartii, one of a spread of the genus he brought along. Ben and Paddy Parmee (Dorset) won the Dartmoor Trophy for the Intermediate Aggregate.
Lee and Julie Martin can be relied on to exhibit well-grown, interesting plants. Their Cyclamen persicum had a fantastic scent, spectacular leaves and an abundance of flowers. This had been selected from a batch of seedlings from a September 2013 sowing. Grown in a mix of loam, leaf-mould, grit and perlite, the plant is fed regularly in the growing season with Maxicrop liquid fertiliser, kept dry through June, July and most of August, with watering recommencing in late summer.
Jim Almond’s expertise in growing difficult Iris is well known and his Iris aitchisonii from Pakistan/Afghanistan is one of those junos that produces more than one flower per stem. The plant in question was grown from his own seed, sown in October 2010 and kept outside. A compost of 50/50 John Innes No. 2 and sharp horticultural grit is used, the plants grown in plastic pots and watered from September to May or up until the foliage yellows, then only slightly moist in summer. The clump in question was last repotted in 2016.
Bob and Rannveig Wallis’s Orchis pauciflora caused quite a stir, receiving the East Devon Trophy for the best plant in a 19cm pan and the Graham Lovell Salver for best pan of Orchidaceae. This southern European orchid was well flowered and in prime condition. The pot is plunged in sand and filled with a low-nutrient compost of 50/50 leaf-mould and grit with a sprinkling of Dolomitic limestone. ‘Do not fertilise’, they stressed, water from September through to May and consider using soil-warming cables to prevent freezing.
Narcissus triandrus x bulbocodium, an unnamed hybrid raised by Jim and Jenny Archibald, has taken 10 years to form a clump from a single bulb found in the sand plunge. Many such hybrids are tricky to grow, slow to increase and prone to fungal disease. Adding bark chips to the compost is reputed to bestow anti-fungal properties. Repot at least every two years, in July, and feed with a high potash fertiliser to promote flowering. Start into growth in late September, keep moist through the winter and increase watering when in growth. The most important thing is to keep the bulbs cool and dry in summer to discourage basal rot. Another of their exhibits, the South American Tristagma bivalve, had been raised from their own seed, sown in October 2010 and grown in equal parts of John Innes No. 2 and grit.
So many exciting and interesting plants were on display that I almost forgot to take advantage of the weather and revel in the delights of the Rosemoor garden. An added bonus when visiting the South West Show! Put the date for next year in your diary now – I can promise you a first class show, excellent plant sales and a tremendous spring garden.
Author: Val Lee
Photographers: Jon Evans and Jim Almond