This year the show seemed even better, if that is possible, than in previous years. Eighty exhibitors who produced nearly seven hundred plants for us to admire, filled the benches with colour, form and foliage to delight the eye. The Large Open was particularly spectacular, with many plants, that on other days might have been expected to win their classes, having to be content with runner up awards. Nor did the other sections disappoint and the quality of the plants and the number of awards to be made meant that there were some difficult decisions for the judges.
The Daphnes tended to dominate a number of the classes; deservedly so. Robin White of Blackthorn Nursery won, not only the Farrer Medal for ‘Best in Show’ with his exhibit of D. x hendersonii ‘Blackthorne Rose’, but also an AGS Medal for his large six pan. Of the six plants one, D. calcicola ‘Gang Ho Ba’ was awarded a Certificate of Merit. Another of his plants, D. malyana in a 19cm pot, aroused much interest. A recent introduction of this species, which grows on limestone cliffs in the south-east of former Yugoslavia, this five year old plant had been grown from seed. Another Daphne which caught my eye was D.gemmata ‘Schrynga’ exhibited by Joy Bishop. This, more open and delicate, yellow flowered plant originated from Kath Dryden and its name ‘Schrynga’ stems from the old Saxon name of the village where Kath lives.
Among some fine Ericaceae, the outstanding plant was a Kalmiopsis leachiana. This North American plant tends to open its flowers in succession over a long period, often to the frustration of the grower, who feels that the judges might feel that not enough flowers are open, or that too many have gone over. There was no problem with this example which was as fully flowered as any I have seen. The growers, Alan and Janet Cook, said that this form always held its flowers well. It thoroughly deserved the ‘Best Ericaceae’ award. Two fine Cassiope lycopodiodes ‘Beatrice Lilley’ and ‘Badenoch’ were unfortunate to have to compete with such a fine plant.
Lewisia brought additional colour to the benches. A number of these were large pans of L. cotyledon hybrids in a variety of colours. I personally prefer the more subtle shades, but there was enough variety to please all tastes. There were a number of L. tweedyi too, but a number of these looked rather tired. A 19cm pot of Lewisia ‘Ashwood Carousel Hybrid’, a yellow form, grown by Martin Rogerson was anything but tired. It filled its pot, forming a perfect dome of colour beneath which it was difficult to see any foliage. Ashwood developed this strain to be hardy outdoors and claim that it is perfectly hardy outside grown on the flat!
Another genus, of which there were a number of impressive pots on view, was Fritillaria. A large pot of F. affinis, named as var. tristulis, but which was almost certainly ‘Wayne Roderick’, shown by Don and Heather Hyde was much admired as was a pot of F. pinetorum shown by Brian Burrow in the class for plants new in cultivation. This rare dwarf species grows in an area of granitic rocks at high altitudes in the Pinos Mountains of Southern California. It is here that the Bristlecone Pine grows. Although the plant came only third in its class it was awarded a Certificate of Merit.
The large open class for shrubs excluding Ericaceae, Daphne and Coniferae was won by Salix cashmeriana belonging to Ron and Hilary Price. This plant was a ten year old specimen which originated from Hartside Nursery in 2002. Architecturally appealing, its charm was enhanced by its catkins which almost glowed with their freshness. The growers said that they repot it when it needs it, feed it with a high potash feed such as Tomerite and treat it to some Chempak 8 in winter to promote root growth.
It is not surprising that, after visiting shows of this quality, so many of us become obsessed with the delights of the alpine flora. A big thank you to John Harrison and his team who helped to make it such a success.