This was a colourful, well-supported event, selectively but diversely as showy as any of the Easter bonnet parades taking place on the same day, and noteworthy for the strength of the entries (many of them staged by local exhibitors) in Sections B and C. Among the latter, a well-furnished, untouched-by-frost Rhododendron ‘Imperator’ (P. Farkasch - picture right) was adjudged best plant in Section B, fighting off the strong challenge posed by two immaculate primulas, Primula ‘Peter Klein’ (= P. rosea x clarkei, an American-bred Asiatic hybrid dating back around 40 years, shown by J. Watson) and the predominantly Japanese P. modesta (Mrs J. Scott), a rather short-lived representative of Section Aleuritia that seems to have undeservedly fallen out of fashion. A consequence of the vogue for hybridizing the European P. allionii that was particularly virulent in the 1970s and 1980s, P. ‘Lismore Jewel’ (D. Brennan) is an almost gaudy, large-flowered, magenta pink, white-eyed hybrid involving P. x pubescens, one of a number bred by Brian Burrow, and still as vigorous now as it was when first exhibited over 20 years ago, though nowadays seldom seen.
Primulaceae members were of material help in gaining Ian Kidman the Woodward Challenge Cup for most first prize points in the Open Section. He won both the large and the small six pan classes, showing floriferous plants of P. ‘Aire Mist’, Androsace laevigata x idahoensis and Dionysia aretioides from this family in the former (picture left), while his small pan entry was exclusively comprised of androsaces, primulas and dionysias, with particularly well-flowered examples of Dionysia ‘Chris Grey-Wilson’ and D. microphylla x ? viscidula to the fore.
However, it was his large-flowered, in-its-prime potful of Draba longisiliqua from the large pan class that was taken up for consideration as best plant in Show, an accolade that was at length accorded to a very large specimen of Paraquilegia anemonoides (Dr & Mrs M. Brown), which the owners gave to their challenger at the close of proceedings, an act of benign abandonment that they have perpetrated time and again with various other plants in similar circumstances over the last few years.
Also considered for the Farrer Medal was a mature grouping of Fritillaria hermonis (J. Saxton), one of a number of versions of this malodorous but severely refined Syrian and Lebanese lime-lover; the closely-related F. amana (shown by D. Peace, and recently disentangled from the former’s embraces chiefly on its leaf coloration and nectary shape) was perhaps best-represented by a potful of the elegantly-flared, lime green alternating with brown-striped selection gathered in south-eastern Turkey by E. K. Balls over 70 years ago, and still going strong. Normally this genus figures strongly at this Show, but this time round, species that would normally be in their prime had long since finished flowering, though other bulbs were keeping pretty much to schedule. Of these, dwarf daffodils were well shown by several exhibitors, one of whom (Miss C. Oates) gained a Certificate of Merit for a dwarf example of the pure white, Moroccan Narcissus rupicola subsp. watieri; she was also successful with a similarly-sized, seed-raised potful of its pure yellow Spanish counterpart, N. rupicola, and a larger but welcomely subtle, bicoloured hybrid, N. ‘Segovia’, with broad white tepals and a shallow, frilled, yellow corona, that stands up well in the garden: some raisings flop at the least provocation.
A relentlessly sunny few weeks had upset the timings of many other exhibits, hastening the flowering of some (a fine cushion of Androsace hirtella (G. Rollinson) appeared several weeks earlier than usual, so too the first of the main spring daphnes, a chubby example of the normally better grown in the open ground Daphne ‘Cheriton’ (T. Lee) to the fore) but seemingly had lesser influence on others, so that the tail-end of Primula allionii exhibits ( P. a. ‘Mrs Dyas’ (I. Kidman) and the much fuller-flowered P. a. ‘Minuet’ (I. Betteridge)) were still in their prime. Curiously, considering the absence of recent frosts country-wide, Ericaceae exhibits were relatively thin on the ground; the best (and certainly the most interesting, whether assessed from the viewpoint of a judge, a plant geographer or a general onlooker) was that extraordinary narrow N.E. Turkish endemic Rhodothamnus sessilifolius (Prof. A.J. Richards), described by Peter Davis 60 years ago, and briefly in cultivation at Edinburgh RBG for a few years thereafter, though it is only from seed collections made by Josef Halda in the early ‘Noughties’ that it has happily become established in a handful of gardens, where it appreciates more continuously damp conditions than its European counterpart, but otherwise has grown encouragingly well in humus-rich, free-draining sites.