In spite of the rather early show date, this being the most northerly of the three autumn shows, the plants in the foliage classes for autumn colour were very much an eye-catching feature. Aruncus aethusifolius `Noble Spirit` with a feathery mound of highly dissected orange foliage, the rarely seen Cornus canadensis, a low carpet of deep red lobed leaves, and a couple shortias with their typical polished leathery leaves in shades of maroon formed the core of a fiery display well supported in a more muted way by forms of Saxifraga fortunei and the scalloped leaves of Heuchera `Hearts of Fire`.
There are very few alpine plants with truly golden foliage and from a genus with perhaps the greatest range of form and foliage on the planet comes one of the best; Celmisia semi-cordata subsp. aurigans, multi-rosetted, with its narrow, stiff leaves gleaming gold on the surface and white beneath and winning here the Millennium trophy for the best foliage plant and a Certificate of Merit. Continuing the autumn theme, this time with fruit rather than foliage, and winning the Newcastle Trophy for the best plant in sections B and C, the Tasmanian conifer Microcachrys tetragona with its thin whipcord stems and leaves studded with several dozen of its upright 1/2cm cones, initially pink and later maturing dark green, stood out in this section of the show.
As was expected, entries for the bulbous classes were rather thin on the ground. Nevertheless three stood out. For sheer flower power Colchicum speciosum album is difficult to beat, both as one of the best of the autumn flowering bulbs for the garden and as an eye catching show exhibit; even more so when it is a 36cm pot stuffed full of statuesque gleaming white goblets. At a different scale is Merendera montana (shown right) with its large, widely funnel shaped. rosey-lilac, white centred flowers sitting on the top dressing; and making this show in tip top condition having traveled from relatively high altitudes in north Wales ( all the local pans of this species being well over); it was deservedly awarded a Certificate of Merit. Of the very few crocus on show the pick of the bunch was a well filled 19cm pot of the fragrant Crocus longiflorus; of a strong lilac hue with a darker stripe on the outside and opening to show the attractive yellow anthers and orange style within a yellow throat.
The Big Three of our autumn shows are of course crocus, gentians and cyclamen and whilst the first is very dependent on weather conditions around the date of the show, and the second on growing conditions during the summer; cyclamen, because of their long flowering season, are always to be relied on to be the floral bulwark of any show at this time of year. Undoubtedly Cyclamen hederifolium in its various guises is the most popular with gardeners and exhibitors, and is generally a species which always looks good in the garden.To win a first prize in the show is, however, another ball game altogether; a game that demands something a little extra special. And it was that bit extra that won for forms of C. hederifolium two of the shows` top awards. The Ewesley Salver for the best cyclamen in a 19cm pot going to a beautiful C. h. `Ruby Strain` with a deep cherry red suffusion to the petals, and the Forrest Medal for the best plant in the show to a lovely pale pink, large flowered form of the same species from north of the Border.
The third of the big three, the autumn flowering gentians were good but not numerous with entries dominated by the recent Aberconwy and Ian Christie selections – the best of them a large pot of the glowing Gentiana x `Blue Silk` dutifully exhibited by the raisers. Alas, when will we ever see a good pot of a gentian species again!
And finally, Campanula cashmeriana is a species that has its home among the cliffs and crevices of the western Himalaya and Afganistan and in cultivation is often at its best in late summer and autumn and indeed won a Farrer Medal at one of the last of the Wirral autumn shows. Well grown, as was the exhibited plant, it is most attractive and here formed a 15cm mound of twiggy stems from a central woody rootstock adorned with pale blue clusters of nodding 2cm bells.