The tail end of Storm Hannah was crossing the north east of Ulster as we arrived at Greenmount for the Ulster Group’s eightieth show in driving rain and strong winds. Not ideal conditions for bringing precious show plants into the hall. One abiding memory is of two exhibitors, one pushing a trolley full of plants, the other bent, holding a large umbrella over the plants (which arrived in the show hall perfectly dry, unlike their owners who were both drenched).
Shortly afterwards, as the benches began to fill with beautiful plants, the miserable conditions outside were forgotten as exhibitors ensured their plants looked their best and, of course, eyed up the competition.
Despite the difficult weather conditions in the weeks leading up to the show, with temperatures fluctuating between 0-20°C, the exhibits were well up to standard in terms of quality and quantity. Despite, or perhaps because of the rotten weather, the number of visitors was well up, so the show was a success on all fronts, marking its significant anniversary in style. A nice touch was the presentation of a memorial notebook to each exhibitor.
Staging a show for 80 years is a considerable achievement but being show secretary for 40 of those years must be unique. So, congratulations to the Ulster Group and their show secretary, Pat Crossley. Pat and her team, as usual, ensured that everything ran smoothly and Martin Rogerson kept a keen but friendly eye on the judges.
A display of excellent plant photos from Liam McCaughey and George Sevastopulo was a most welcome addition to the atmosphere in the show hall and was appreciated by exhibitors and visitors alike.
The best plant in flower in the Novice Section was Leontopodium pusillum and Enkianthus cernuus f. rubens the best pan of Ericaceae, both shown by Montalto Estate (Ballynahinch), which was also awarded the Malcolmson Cup for most points in the section. As Pat Crossley pointed out in her report on the Dublin Show, Montalto Estate, then home to the Countess of Clanwilliam, played a pivotal role in the staging of the first AGS Ulster Show in the spring of 1939. It was serendipitous that 80 years later, one of the exhibitors at the current show was Montalto Estate. Twenty-four plants were exhibited in the section which augurs well for the future of the show.
A well-grown specimen of Trillium grandiflorum from Kay McDowell, Limavady, was best plant in the Intermediate Section. The award for most points in the section went to Gordon Finch (Belfast) who gained nine firsts.
The Open Section was dominated by the colour blue due to the fourteen gentians staged by Paddy Smith (Navan) whose skill with this genus is well known. They included G. clusii, acaulis, ligustica, angustifolia (purple), verna (blue), verna ‘Alba’ and verna subsp. balcanica. Paddy won the Cowan Trophy for his G. ligustica, the Garratt Cup for G. verna subsp. balcanica from seed, the Phebe Anderson for three plants grown from seed (all of them gentians), the Saxifraga Group Salver for Saxifraga pubescens and the Cooke Cup for most points in the Open Section.
Gordon Toner (Limavady) is the star exhibitor of the Ulster Group and was awarded the trophy for the best bulbous plant, along with a Certificate of Merit, for Trillium grandiflorum ‘Snow Bunting’, as well as the trophy for the large three pan class. Gordon exhibits a lot of trilliums which he grows in pots in a woodland compost enriched with blood, fish and bone.
A Certificate of Merit was also awarded to a white Pulsatilla vulgaris exhibited by Jim McKnight (Bessbrook). Liam Byrne (Dublin) showed a fine Rhododendron ‘Ginny Gee’ which was deemed the best pan of Ericaceae. Your reporter won the award for the best plant from Australasia with Celmisia semicordata ‘David Shackleton’ which also attracted a Certificate of Merit, as did his Daphne calcicola.
Gavin Moore (Dublin) received the award for the best plant in a 19cm pot with Primula reidii var. williamsii from seed, a Certificate of Merit for a large pot of Primula henrici and a well-deserved Farrer Medal for another potful of the same plant (a different, more attractive clone). This is a variable species and in some clones the flowers tend to change colour quite quickly after opening, giving them a ‘spotty’ appearance. The award plant has pale pink flowers that retain the original colour even as they fade and it is in my opinion one of the best clones around.
Apart from the plants that received awards of various kinds there were, as always, many attractive exhibits which tend not to be mentioned in show reports. One such in Ulster was Mr and Mrs George Gordon’s Potentilla hyparctica, the Arctic cinquefoil. This is a very good garden plant, easily grown if given full sun and sharp drainage. I grow it in a raised bed where it does very well but, as the Gordons’ plant indicates, it is also amenable to pot culture.
The later April show brings to an end the show season in Ireland and leaves us all, north and south, with a long wait for the next show in early April 2020, which will be in Ulster.
Author: Billy Moore
Photographer: Heather Smith