The rain just about held off until the exhibitors had ferried their entries into the Whitworth show hall. But from then on, heavy rain showers and snow flurries were the order of the day, with just the odd dry interval between; the temperature seldom rose above 2C. Still, at least the show was not ‘snowed off’ this year, and the welcome board alongside the trophy-laden table, the warm greetings and the wry comments from friends old and new, not to mention the warm drinks and snacks, soon lifted spirits.
There was a small, informative display in one corner, portraying the East Lancashire Group`s activities. This featured photographs of outings to Fircroft and Aberconwy nurseries, a visit to a member`s garden in Oldham, and the winners of their 2014 photographic competition. In the opposite corner was a concise display of bonsai by Tony Tickle who, throughout the day, demonstrated his pruning techniques. He has a website – just ‘Google’ his name - and mentioned that he is organising an event in Bury in 2015; see Bonsai Europa.com.
The benches were absolutely packed with plants, to the point that it was doubtful any more could have been accomodated. Not surprisingly a wide variety of spring bulbs was in evidence, especially Fritillaria, Erythronium, Ipheion, and Narcissus. A beautiful cream form of Crocus cvijicii attracted much attention, and there were various juno irises to satisfy connoisseurs of the genus. There were also considerable numbers of European primulas, including a superb specimen of P. ‘Crusader’ [right] shown by Geoff Rollinson (which was awarded a Certificate of Merit), and large cushions of P. ‘Aire Mist’ and P. ‘Pink Aire’. Various dionysias and saxifrages were also well shown.
It was the prodigious Cyclamen pseudibericum belonging to Frank & Barbara Hoyle that, for the second week running, was adjudged best in show. In accordance with the rules, it could not be awarded a further Farrer Medal in the same season. This said, as several judges commented, with so many fine plants on the benches, it was unfortunate that a Farrer Medal could not be awarded.
Primula ‘Netta Dennis’ was described on the AGS ‘Plant of the Month’ website feature for February 2007, as ‘a plant often seen at the spring shows’. Sadly, it is infrequently shown at present, and certainly not to the standard of this exhibit belonging to Don Peace. John Dennis raised this cross between P. aureata and P. petiolaris which, like other petiolarids, requires special conditions akin to those found in Nepal, the home of its parents. The example on view showed off its mealy green leaves and flowers to perfection, though perhaps slightly fewer of the latter than some earlier examples seen, and it narrowly beat a delightful pot of a P. irregularis hybrid to take first place. Cool, humid conditions are required (summer heat poses the principal threat to its wellbeing), yet if water drips onto the foliage, the hitherto pristine farina is spoiled. It would be a pity if this plant was lost to horticulture.
The same can be said of a plant raised in Newcastle by Eric Watson, which represents one of the very earliest of the nowadays numerous Dionysia hybrids. In general I am not enamoured of these and much prefer the pure colours of the species. However D. viscidula x freitagii EGW/MK 91/1, with its clear white eyes, is one of my favourites. Mark Childerhouse, perhaps better known for his saxifrages – he had a superb cushion of S. ‘Coolock Gem’ elsewhere – benched his specimen [not the plant shown] which he had obtained from onetime Norfolk nurseryman Mike Smith at least seven years ago. Mark grows it in a mixture of roughly equal parts of sand, grit, perlite, vermiculite, john Innes no. 2 and leaf-mould. Repotting is a challenging process, for the fine roots tend to adhere to the sides of the clay pot. To restrict root damage, Mark carefully cracks the sides of the pot so that the roots can grow through the fissures as they would similarly infiltrate rock crevices in nature. The one on show had three earlier pots hidden within! After removal of the flowers, the pot is left to stand in a liquid feed of Chempak 8 until the compost is moist to half its depth or more. Cornish grit is used as a top dressing in order to show the plant off to its best, but also to provide a sharply-drained surround and support for the in time woody neck.
Erythronium multiscapoideum is a plant less often seen on the benches than some of its fellow North West Americans. Although I remember some excellent pots from years past, this example would have taken some beating. Shown by Della Kerr, it had numerous flowers at their best and further reserves still in bud. Della said that she felt that the stems appeared shorter this year which, in my opinion, made it even more attractive. Raised from AGS seed sown in 1997, the stock is happiest in a mix of John Innes no. 3, humus-rich multipurpose compost and grit. (Like most of us, she was not sure of precise amounts involved, preferring to add the ingredients until they ‘felt right’.) Because of the size of the clump, rather than repot, in mid to late summer she removes a good depth of compost and top-dresses. The pot stays outside all year, plunged in a shady spot.
Localised in the wild but commonly grown in gardens and often appearing at shows (the clone ‘Spindlestone’ is recommended for this purpose), Erythronium tuolumnense is a reliable and readily obtainable Californian from the Sierra Nevada. Edward Spencer’s plant seemed slightly different from the ones usually seen and was admired by a number of experienced growers. Relatively dwarf, and with yellow flowers that those with better colour vision than me claimed to have a faint pink tinge, this led to suggestions that it was possibly a hybrid, perhaps with E. revolutum. Whether or not, it was a fine plant. The exhibitor grows it outdoors in his garden near Derby and had potted up part of the clump when it appeared above ground a few weeks ago. It increases well, both in the garden and in a pot, when given a compost of John Innes no. 3, ericaceous compost and sand.
Another woodlander, but from the eastern side of the Pacific, Hepatica insularis is found only on Cheju Island and the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. The small, three-lobed leaves are beautifully patterned and glossy. One of the earliest hepaticas to bloom, the flowers are most commonly white, as here, but pink forms are also known. Relatively easy to grow, but not so easy to source, Lionel Clarkson obtained his plant from Ashwood Nurseries about eight years ago. There it is grown in a purpose-built Hepatica house and described as semi-hardy, requiring at least partial shade. Lionel’s plant is grown in a deep plastic pot, filled with a mixture of three parts John Innes no. 3, one part grit and one part composted bark.
Asiatic woodland plants have become very popular in recent decades, some of them imported direct by nurseries such as Edrom, from whom Barry Winter acquired his plant of the northern Japanese Viola brevistipulata var. hidakana. Suited to a position in dappled shade, this dwarf version of a fairly widespread species can be slow to settle down, but once suited reliably produces numbers of its rich yellow flowers, which are sweetly scented. Barry grows it under the alpine house staging, where it receives dappled shade from nearby trees. A lime-free, ericaceous compost, kept neither too wet nor too dry at any time, is advocated. Once established it will run about from underground shoots, and it is best propagated by division. At the start of its season the foliage is an attractive bronze-brown which gradually turns green through the summer: in winter it disappears underground.
Iris bucharica ‘Baldschuan Yellow’ is a high altitude selection from Tadjikistan, dwarfer and of a deeper golden yellow than the ‘commercial form’ that many of us grow in our gardens. This species is one of the more amenable of the juno irises, more tolerant of damp even when dormant, and recommended for a raised bed or a well-drained part of the rock garden. Ivor Betteridge bought his plant from Paul Christian (who states that it is a good garden plant) and grows it in a 50/50 mix of John Innes no. 3 and grit.
If Primula ‘Netta Dennis’ has declined in cultivation, by contrast the once little-seen P. ‘Broadwell Milkmaid’ has gone from strength to strength, and is arguably the most floriferous of all the many P. allionii hybrids. Tony Stanley won the Merlewood Trophy for the best plant in the Intermediate Section with a fine specimen which he grows in an Access frame, the sides of the sand plunge lined with 25mm polystyrene for insulation and pond liner beneath to retain moisture. The sand is watered during the summer via a plastic long-tom, and a small oscillating fan placed in one corner runs constantly. The preferred compost is two parts John Innes no. 3, one of composted bark, and half each of 6mm grit, horticultural sand and vermiculite. To each five litres of this he adds a quarter teaspoonful of Viresco Dry and twice that quantity of Humate. The sand plunge is kept just moist over the winter and when the plant shows signs of stirring the pot is thoroughly watered and returned to the plunge, where it is given a quarter turn each week to encourage even development. Rather than administering liquid feds, the exhibitor prefers to repot when roots appear through the drainage holes of the container.
It is a pleasure to welcome newcomers to the show scene and to witness their delight when their cherished plants receive a red, blue or yellow sticker. Reg Birch, to his surprise, won not only the Booker Trophy for the best plant in the Novice Section with Soldanella ‘Sudden Spring’, but also the East Lancashire Trophy (awarded to someone who has not yet won a first prize at an AGS National Show. He also won the Eileen Lever Memorial Trophy for the most first prize points in the Novice Section: a most successful start! S. ‘Sudden Spring’, a hybrid between S. carpatica and a S. pusilla hybrid that was raised and named by Robert Rolfe, is more reliably floriferous than either parent, and was selected partly because of its manifest vigour compared with its siblings. It needs to be grown in a moist, well-drained soil, and benefits from part shade during the summer months. Reg`s plant, grown in a mixture of John Innes no. 2, grit, leaf-mould and ground pumice, was well-presented and displayed all the best characteristics of this hybrid.
Many thanks to Carol Kellett and her team for another first-rate show, which dispelled all memories of last year’s hiatus, and amply demonstrated that spring had indeed arrived, the weather on the day notwithstanding.
Author: Dave Mountfort
Photographers: Jim Almond and Don Peace