This was the third year that the onetime Summer North Show, for many years associated with Yorkshire venues and held on a Saturday in June, was instead located in rural Derbyshire, on a Sunday. The weather started misty but the temperature rose quickly, although the hall is cool enough for the comfort of the plants entombed therein for the day. The organisers have effectively balanced the financial risks to give a profitable outcome even though it was apparent that many potential visitors from the adjacent caravan park and Bakewell town centre missed an opportunity to witness a magnificent display of plants numbering just under 600 exhibits in a blaze of colour and form.
The Farrer Medal went to first time (after one or two close calls) to Rod and Shirley Johnson for a mature, well-flowered Rhododendron lowndesii propagated from a larger, open ground specimen obtained from the Lea Garden Rhododendron nursery near Matlock. Originally collected by Stainton, Sykes and Williams in 1954 on cliff ledges at 3,000-4,600m in Nepal, it is among the trickiest and slowest-growing of dwarf rhododendrons.
An AGS Medal was won by Tommy Anderson for the fourth time this year. All six plants were in first-rate condition but I would like to single out his Allium oreophilum ‘Kusavli Curl’. This was introduced by Jānis Rukšāns and was listed in his 2004 catalogue with the following notes: ‘One of the most beautiful forms of this species, in which [the] very dwarf habit is combined with unusually twisted leaves… easy in open garden as well. From Tajikistan where it grows in upper course of Kusavli-sai at 3,200m’. The degree of leaf curl is less marked in cultivation but this does not distract from the vivid, orderly flowering display.
Alan Furness year after year stages antipodean plants and he had several celmisias on show. In particular his Celmisia bellidioides with deep green, small, shiny leaves was most attractive and had many flowers (such performances cannot be taken for granted since several clones are grown in Britain, varying in their flower power. Native to South Island, New Zealand, it is technically a subalpine, found at 600-1,800m on wet rocks, often in the splash-zone of the cascades they contain.
Alan also received a Certificate of Merit for his oldest alpine, Lewisia rediviva, dating back to 1985 and repotted following its 2013 Farrer Award, when it had filled a 19cm pot. It will doubtless challenge again for Best in Show.
Brian Burrow staged two particularly large-flowered examples of Physoplexis comosa var. pubescens with attractively hirsute leaves. This was first described under the identity Syntoma comosum in 2011. In recent times it has been distributed by German nurseryman Gerd Stopp from Italian collections made in the Valle Vallarsa at 800m and above Lake Caldonazzo at 650m. Despite the hairy leaves, plants are still relentlessly targeted by slugs and snails.
Several pure or approximately white forms of Roscoea humeana were displayed but Diane Clement’s plant was a subtle mix of lilac/purple and the flower stems had not yet elongated, adding to the attraction. Diane had repotted the plant ‘blind’ after finding a label vaguely titled ‘bulb/garden’. A cool, humus-rich site is required: self-seeding will ensue if the plants are happy. Other examples varied from Dave Mountfort’s almost whiter-than-white R. humeana ‘Alba’ to Alan Newton’s subtly lilac and pink-flushed SBLE 636 raisings.
Lee and Julie Martin gained two Certificates of Merit for their abundantly-plumed Saxifraga ‘Tumbling Waters’ and for Iris variegata, the latter rarely seen. Obtained from Cambridge Bulbs (Norman Stevens), this native of eastern Europe is grown in a gritty/humus-rich mix and regularly repotted, at which time it can also be readily be divided. A form with white ground colour to the falls is called I. reginae but typically these are heavily dark patterned and yellowish-tinged, with prominent yellow beards, while the flounced standards are egg-yolk yellow and unmarked.
The Martins also staged the most attractive North American Oxytropis lambertii, distributed from western Canada as far south as Arizona and referred to by Claude Barr as ‘purple loco’ or ‘loco weed’, since it is poisonous to cattle. The plant was a gift from Peter Farkasch, who has a particular interest in alpine legumes.
Your reporter staged what is probably the slowest-growing miniature spruce, Picea abies ‘Wichtel’, its typical growth rate only 2 to 3 mm per year. Originally discovered in the 1990s as a sport at the Hillier Arboretum, a German nurseryman obtained a plant and jumped the gun by naming it ‘Wichtel’ (German for ‘gnome’). Notwithstanding the claim-jumping, Hilliers have accepted this coining, after some consideration.
Author: Dave Riley
Photographers: Robert Rolfe and Don Peace