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South West AGS Show, 2022

March 26, 2022

It had been an unseasonably warm week and plants had moved on apace, with barely visible buds the weekend before opening up beautifully for our annual trip to Rosemoor. The static high-pressure system over the British Isles led to some welcome sunny days but the nights were cold and as we arrived in Rosemoor, there was evidence of frost on the ground. Luckily not enough to damage the huge array of magnolias, a feature of this beautiful RHS garden in early spring.

The huge, brightly lit hall was a picture of display plants thanks to the stalwart exhibitors who made the trip. The Peter Edwards Memorial Trophy for the most first prizes in the Primulaceae classes went to Paul & Gill Ranson, who also received the Exeter Trophy for the Open Section aggregate. Peter Edwards was one of the first people to grow and show dionysias when they started to come into cultivation in increasing numbers in the 1960s and 1970s. Paul and Gill have picked up this batten over the intervening years, their huge, pale yellow dome of D. ‘Selene’ receiving a well-deserved Certificate of Merit. I was also greatly attracted to their D. iranica JLMS02-651. This species was only discovered at the end of the 20th century and was introduced by four expeditions over the next four years, all from around Kuh-e Badamestan in Bakhtiari Province, Iran where it grows on limestone cliffs at 1,500-2,750m. I acknowledge that it is yet another yellow dome of floral abundance, typical of the genus, the display obscuring those tiny rosettes that are critical for identification, but I think that it was noteworthy!

The Dartmoor Trophy for most first prize points in the Intermediate Section was won by David Carver who yet again provided some notable plants, several daphnes and the interesting Gladiolus caeruleus the pick of the bunch. Included was D. wolongensis ‘China Pink’, at first a small shrub that will eventually form a bush over 1m tall in a leafy mix in the open garden, so perhaps too large to torture in a pot for long. It was however disappointing that there were no entries at all in the Novice Section, in the past often supported by local exhibitors. A challenge for someone who wants to dip a toe in the water and show off their particular favourites.

To me, and to the judges, the outstanding plant in a 19cm pot was Dot Sample’s Daphne modesta, recipient of the East Devon Trophy. This diminutive little Chinese shrub was raised from her own seed by Dorothy Sample. It is very slow-growing, putting on only a few millimetres of growth each year and still less than 10 cm tall after eight years, but absolutely covered in the five-petalled flowers characteristic of the subgenus Wikstroemia. This had been in a rich, gritty mix of John Innes compost and grit in the ratio 60:40.

Daphne modesta exhibited by Dot Sample

Daphne modesta exhibited by Dot Sample

Cyclamen were much in evidence and a lovely C. persicum grown by Jim Loring took the Cornwall Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate Section. It was also encouraging to see multiple, high-quality exhibits in some of the other classes, none more so than the excellent large six-class which won Ian Robertson an RHS Sewell Medal. This comprised Cyclamen persicum in two colour forms and C. pseudibericum but the stars were two huge pans of beautifully flowered pleiones. Pleione grandiflorum was just edged out by P. formosana ‘Avalanche’ which took the Graham Lovell Trophy for the best pan of Orchidaceae.

Cyclamen persicum exhibited by Jim Loring

Cyclamen persicum exhibited by Jim Loring

I asked Ian afterwards what he does to get such fantastic flowerings. He grows them in frost-free conditions and the annual timetable comprises tidying up in December-January, a dip in a well-mixed slurry of neem oil in water to destroy arthropods like the Brevipalpus mite and repotting in a mix of sphagnum, bark and perlite. This is topped with moss, into which the bulbs are settled and then again top-dressed with bark for exhibition. He administers a little water spray to increase humidity, starting them off in January to February with a hand sprayer and increasing watering once the flowers die off and the leaves start growing. During the rest of the summer, they are copiously watered, along with a home-made liquid feed quite high in nitrogen, supplemented after July with a high potash feed such as that used for tomatoes at a quarter strength. Watering ceases in September, when the leaves are allowed to die off and the plants go dormant.

The Farrer Medal was awarded to a large pot of Iranian Fritillaria reuteri grown by Bob & Rannveig Wallis. This introduction, in cultivation since the 1970s, probably derived from the gathering made by Felicity Baxter when she lived there with her husband. The Wallises also received a Certificate of Merit for a huge, abundantly flowered pan of Iris suaveolens Helveolus Group, a native of the Balkans which is reliable in a pot or in a well-drained sunny spot in the rock garden where it will slowly expand its thick rhizomes. This way the middle eventually dies out, leaving a circumference circle. However, by carefully rearranging the outer rhizomes during summer repotting (or replanting), it is possible to have a fully populated exhibit of the little yellow bearded flowers, set off by small, falcate leaves.

Finally, we should thank Jonathan & Kana Webster and the Rosemoor staff who made us most welcome in their wonderful garden. They found time to put on a Gold Medal-winning display of plants which had been grown in the alpine house there. The pick of these was an almost black-flowered Pulsatilla pratensis which received a Certificate of Merit. This is quite widespread in the wild from Norway through Denmark to Bulgaria, increasing in its favoured altitude as it distributes southwards. Rarely seen in cultivation, it was a fitting tribute to a great day out.

Reporter: Bob Wallis

Photographer: Jon Evans