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Ulster 2023

April 22, 2023

It was a cold, very wet morning as we arrived at St Bride’s Hall, Belfast for the 2023 Ulster Show, Show Secretary Pat Crossley’s 44th. Pat had high hopes that this year’s show would see a return to the pre-Covid level standards, and her hopes were realized as the benches started to fill with excellent exhibits. The Ulster exhibitors were joined by a strong contingent from the Dublin group, once again showing how interdependent the two groups are when it comes to showtime.

Things went very well on the day and Pat was at pains to emphasize the role of her team in ensuring the smooth running of the show. Director of Shows, Martin Rogerson, with his usual aplomb, kept a close eye on the judging. For the first time Martin entered some plants of which more later. It was an excellent show: the fact that there were five plants contending for best in show indicated the high quality of the exhibits.

The Novice Section warrants particular mention as the number of exhibitors and the quality of the exhibits was notable. This was partly due to an initiative by the Dublin group show secretary, Gavin Moore, who set himself an objective last year to get ten new first-time exhibitors. He started a WhatsApp group, which included members from both groups, to provide guidance and advice throughout the year on sourcing and growing suitable plants. The plan succeeded with both shows having more and better plants in the Novice Section than in previous years. It is to be hoped that at least some of these novices will get the showing bug and become lifers.

Mentioning Gavin’s name reminds me to bring up a slight difficulty I have in writing this report. Gavin is my son and had a very good show, so I must be careful, on the one hand, not to show any bias in his favour or, on the other, not to sell him short because of the relationship.

The award for the best plant in flower in the Novice Section went to Áine Máire Ní Mhurchú, Dublin, for a nice pot of Narcissus ‘Hawera’. Áine Máire shows great promise for future shows having done very well also in Dublin. Her arrangement of cut flowers which received a first in the Open Section was exquisite, the upper tier comprising mostly narcissus over a base of primulas, mainly Primula ‘Julius Caesar’.

Flower arrangement exhibited by Aine Maire Ni Mhurchie

Flower arrangement exhibited by Aine Maire Ni Mhurchie

Dave Hardy of Dromore got the award for the best pan of Ericaceae in the section with his Rhododendron stenopetalum linearifolium. David Power, Greystones, won the cup for the section aggregate.

The best plant in the Intermediate Section was another fine potful of Narcissus ‘Hawera’ shown by Triona Corcoran, Dublin. Her exhibit also got a Certificate of Merit. I am sure that Triona’s name will crop up in future reports on the Irish shows. Regular exhibitor Mac Dunlop, Glenoe, Larne got the cup for the Intermediate Section aggregate.

Narcissus 'Hawera' exhibited by Triona Corcoran

Narcissus 'Hawera' exhibited by Triona Corcoran

Gordon Toner is the Ulster Group’s premier exhibitor and excelled again on this occasion. He shows a wide range of plants but is noted especially for his Trilliums. His well-flowered T. luteum received the award for the Open bulbous class. I admired his very dark flowered T. chloropetalum. Gordon’s Daphne gemmata received a Certificate of Merit and his fresh, well flowered Rhododendron ‘Ginny Gee’ got the award for the best pan of Ericaceae. Both plants were in contention for the best in show.

Rhododendron 'Ginny Gee' exhibited by Gordon Toner

Rhododendron 'Ginny Gee' exhibited by Gordon Toner

A beautifully presented large pan of Pleione ‘Vesuvius’ staged by George Gordon, another strong Ulster exhibitor, was much admired. I also liked Val Keegan’s, nicely staged Tropaeolum tricolor which was in perfect condition.

Paddy Smith, noted for his gentians and cyclamen, took home a lot of silverware. He won the Cowan Trophy and a Certificate of Merit for a fine potful of Gentiana verna and the cup for another pan of G. verna, which included some white flowers, in the grown from seed class. He picked up the SRGC Quaich for the best plant in a pan not exceeding 19 cm with a very nice G. acaulis.

I received the award for the best plant from Australasia for Celmisia semicordata ‘David Shackleton’, a Certificate of Merit for Ramonda myconi and, somewhat to my surprise, a Certificate also for my Arisaema kiushianum, a charming little plant from Japan.

The big winner on the day was Gavin Moore. He got a Certificate of Merit for a lovely pan of Cheilanthes wootonii, the cup for the Open Section aggregate and the Farrer Medal for his magnificent Daphne petrea ‘Lydora’. Gavin has had this plant for upwards of fourteen years and it has produced some flowers each year but never in such profusion as this year. He puts its floriferousness down to the fact that it was given the maximum exposure to full sun in summer 2022.

Gavin showed several different pulsatillas grown from seed: his P. albana lutea with pure yellow flowers and white-flowered P. slavica alba were much commented on. And Martin Rogerson’s three fine entries each got a red sticker.

Pulsatilla albana lutea exhibited by Gavin Moore

Pulsatilla albana lutea exhibited by Gavin Moore

The judges were unanimous in their decision to award a Large Gold to Joan and Liam McCaughey for their splendid photographic exhibit entitled ‘Alpines in a changing climate’. The exhibit included images of alpines from all over the world and promoted the AGS, encouraging viewers to join.

As we removed our plants from the benches there was general delight that the show had gone so well. Pat was pleased that the success of the show gave her hope for the future. The resurgence of the Novice Section is encouraging, and among the public, whose numbers were up, the attendance of more children than usual, all well-behaved, seemed a hopeful sign. Pat is already looking forward to next year, which is the 85th anniversary of the Ulster Group Show, an event that she feels should be marked in some way in 2024. We all wish her well.

Show Reporter: Billy Moore
Show Photographer: Heather Smith