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North Midland AGS Show, 2011
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North Midland AGS Show, 2011

Although entries were reduced at this year’s Chesterfield gathering, especially in the Novice and Intermediate Sections, the impressive number of plants grown to the highest of standards in the Open Section acted as a counterbalance. It is often lamented that fewer large plants are exhibited nowadays: not true at this Show, where a generous number of  fine plants occupied pots nearing the maximum 36 cm diameter limit.

   How encouraging to see the youngest exhibitor, 10 year old Joseph Bramley, winning two second and two third prizes. Although disappointed not to receive a red sticker this time, he is surely well on his way to becoming a keen grower and exhibitor! The winner of the Nottingham Junior Challenge Trophy (for the most points in the Novice Section) was John Fitzpatrick, the more creditable in that this is only his second year of exhibiting.

In the Intermediate Section Tony Hale was awarded the Nottingham Shield for a range of good entries, including a firm, greyish green dome of the southern Spanish Arenaria lithops; production of the sessile white flowers is usually meagre in cultivation, but it makes an excellent cushion plant. Shown as A. “alvacarensis”, this is what The RHS Plantfinder has as A. alfacarensis, and treats as a synonym of A. lithops (there is another Iberian species of questionable horticultural worth from further west, A. algarbiensis, with narrower leaves and lax inflorescences).

   Special congratulations go to Ian Kidman, winner of the Gould Trophy (most first prize points in the Open Section) for the tenth consecutive year – a remarkable achievement, predicated on the high alpine plants (Primulaceae particularly) in which he specializes. His AGS Medal-winning large six pan entry comprised Androsace nivalis, A. idahoensis x laevigata, Paraquilegia anemonoides, Draba ossetica, Primula ‘Jackie Edwards’ and P. ‘Coy’. To produce six pans of similar size, with each plant at its peak, and creating a complementary group, normally presupposes a large collection from which to choose, and a deal of skill to keep them in such good order.

   In the small six pan class he had a further win, pipping Lionel Clarkson to the post with Androsace laevigata ‘Gothenburg’, Draba ossetica, Primula ‘Hythe Buttermilk’, P. ‘Stella’, Dionysia bryoides and the bright yellow D. JM/MK 9953/14, the latter a latish-flowering hybrid with neatly rounded, long-tubed flowers that deserves a clonal name. Ian also received a Certificate of Merit for an outstanding Androsace vandellii, a smallish-flowered version sown 10 years ago and now forming a perfect 18 cm diameter, glistening white dome.

    One of the widest exhibits carried in to the showhall, Dave Mountfort’s impressive Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Dwarf form’, spread its much-branched canopy well beyond the circumference of its large plastic pot. Around 12 years old, and much slower-growing than typical forms of this easternmost Asian (which typically reach 1-2 m), the recipient of the Chesterfield Vase was covered in clouds of very shallow funnelled, slightly crinkled, large pink flowers. These appear well before the smallish leaves, which also contribute a dazzling display, late in the year, when they turn brilliant crimson. Similar plants have been distributed under the name ‘Cheju Dwarf’, denoting the South Korean island to which such representatives can be traced.

   Another competitor who brings a wide range of entries to Shows throughout the northern half of the country, George Young took home the Fieldhouse Trophy, given to the winning entry of three plants in flower, raised from seed by the exhibitor. One of these, the western Turkish Fritillaria carica, might well have been raised from a stock introduced by Norman Stevens and Vic Horton with rather slender, greenish-yellow flowers and furled, glaucous basal leaves. This species also increases by offset bulbils, whereas F. tubiformis (from the French and Italian Alps) often shows little in the way of vegetative increase: a potful elsewhere on the benches, from the same exhibitor, represented a 1988 sowing. Best of all, perhaps, the too little-seen F. drenovskii, confined to dry, rocky meadows in the mountains bordering NE Greece and SW Bulgaria, had been raised from seed distributed by Gothenburg Botanical Garden in 2000, and the grouping showed both the purple and reddish-brown colour phases, the narrow bells with the typical narrow yellow margins that add to their elegance. 

   Geoff Rollinson had a very successful show, gaining three awards from just seven plants. Primula ‘Wharfedale Crusader’, a thrum-eyed hybrid in which the P. allionii parentage predominates, gained him the Frances Hopkin Trophy for the best plant in a 19 cm pot,

 while a similarly-sized, demure clump of Narcissus rupicola was voted the best bulbous plant and accordingly received the Chatsworth Trophy. Under 10 cm tall, and uniform (nursery stocks are often taller and variable in both height and flower form), it had been grown in an uncovered frame throughout a winter cold enough for part of the base of the pot to have sheared off as a consequence of frost action.

His Primula bracteata subsp. dubernardiana, a Farrer Medal contender, which had also appeared at this event the previous year, was now reached a diameter of 20 cm, and received a Certificate of Merit. Other exhibitors showed smaller plants of this, and its hybrids with P. bracteata itself: none enjoyed the extremes of the 2010-11 winter, and several owners reported heavy casualties.

A third Certificate of Merit went to Frank and Barbara Hoyle for a mature Draba mollissima. This was a chance seedling (it germinated in a pot containing Dionysia bryoides: the fine seed travels well in a draughty alpine house) with 6 cm stems, only around half the length of the generally very uniform preponderance of cultivated stocks. It will be well worth propagating from cuttings, which root well if taken in late spring. It was suggested that D. acaulis might have been involved in its parentage, but it looked, in foliage and flower form, nothing more than a condensed version of the D. mollissima, which hasn’t been re-introduced from the Caucasus for many years

   Another Draba, this time of clear hybrid origin, also represented a chance seedling,  noticed by the late John Saxton in the sand plunge of his alpine house some five years ago. Shown by Lionel Clarkson in the class for a plant new in cultivation, it represents the cross D. rosularis x dedeana (no other species were grown) and is closest to the latter parent, with palest cream flowers above deep green, shiny rosettes, and a tendency to etiolate unless grown in a bright, well-ventilated spot, as was happily the case here. John gave this promising plant to Rachel Lever of Aberconwy Nursery, intending to name it for his wife Gill if it performed well, but after his death she preferred the clonal name ‘John Saxton’, in memory of her husband, a long-serving Show Secretary, one-time Seed Distribution Manager, and very experienced exhibitor.

Finally to the Farrer Medal plant – Frank and Barbara Hoyle’s Draba ossetica, also (by a happy coincidence) attracted the John Saxton Memorial Trophy for the best plant native to Europe. Full light, sharp drainage and excellent ventilation are of prime importance in its cultivation. We were lucky to see this plant at all, for a decision to attend the Show was only taken the night before!                                                                

Clare Oates
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