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Northumberland AGS/SRGC Show, 2014
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Northumberland AGS/SRGC Show, 2014

[Photos to follow shortly]

It seemed hardly a moment since we'd said cheerio to our friends from north of the border. Yet two weeks had passed since the joint AGS/SRGC show at Kendal and now  it was Hexham's turn to host the other spring get-together, this time under ‘Scottish rules'. Accordingly, a Forrest Medal was on offer for the best in show and to no-one's great surprise, Cyril Lafong won that accolade with an amazing example of Trillium rivale 'Purple Heart'. He also gained a Certificate of Merit with Tecophilaea cyanocrocus var. violacea whilst his large plant of Pulsatilla vernalis added yet more wow factor to the top end of the show benching. An altogether serious contribution to the spectacle on offer to the Northumberland public.

Almost in another dimension, and in the class for 'one plant native to Japan or China', Barry Winter showed us his plant of Viola chaerophylloides var. sieboldiana 'Usubeni'. Still a young specimen, and effectively dwarfed by the size of its label (surely the winner of the unofficial ‘very small plant – very long name’ competition), it was nevertheless fascinating to see and I look forward to witnessing it progress to greater maturity. Information on this species, which has attractively dissected leaves rather than the more or less heart-shaped ones of so many violets, is sparse, with no mention in the AGS index or encyclopaedia. Sourced from Edrom Nurseries, Barry grows it in a woodsy mix and ensures that it receives light shade. Edrom's catalogue tells us that it forms a mound from which rise the solitary (white to pale pink), sweet-scented flowers.

Anne Wright is well known to many in both the AGS and the SRGC, having done much to promote the smaller Narcissus species and hybrids in recent years. At Hexham, she showed us her own deliberate crossing of Narcissus obesus x triandrus, sown in 2005 and created ‘because I wanted to see what it looked like’. Well it turned out to be a very pleasing pale yellow hoop-petticoat and a very plausible looking offspring from the two selected parents. Residing in a very small pot plunged in something like a 15cm outer pot it was somewhat dwarfed by its larger neighbours in the chosen 36cm 'from seed' class. I assume that Anne had already utilised all her daffodil options in the small pan classes. It didn't attract a coloured sticker, but was an admirable example of an exhibitor putting plants on the benches in order to allow us all to see them, rather than with the sole aim of winning a prize.

There was much at this show for the Fritillaria enthusiast: I've picked out just two from the many fine and interesting examples. George Young exhibited Fritillaria amana 'Göksun Gold': a striking example of this predominantly green, brownish marked species from a Horton & Stevens collection in 1979 given the number HS2333. Found as a single small bulbil just south of the Turkish town of Göksun, HS2333 has, at least according to the literature, spawned at least two fine plants. The account of F. amana 'Sunglow' after Fred Hunt’s exhibit received an RHS Preliminary Commendation references this collectors’ number. Either the numbers have been confused over time or these named forms are in fact seedlings from the original material. No matter what their precise origins, both are fine clones and well worth seeking out.

Fritillaria poluninii is a much less imposing miniature from north-eastern Iraq and just across the border into Iran, though one with a great attraction for the enthusiast.  Cyril Lafong's example of this diminutive species was grown from his own seed sown in 1996 and subsequently given his 'standard bulb treatment', i.e. a rich gritty compost with plenty of water (including an occasional half-strength high potash feed) while the plants are in growth with, then dryish following their early summer return to dormancy. The species was discovered by Oleg Polunin during his Iraq expedition of 1958 and originally classified as a subspecies of Fritillaria crassifolia: this view was maintained when it was subsequently found in Iran’s Kordestan Province by Per Wendelbo 20 years later. Now generally accepted as a distinct species on account of its narrow, glossy green leaves, its short stems and the one or two (rarely three) whitish, green-veined bells each supports, some publications (including the AGS online encyclopaedia) maintain the linkage with F. crassifolia.

Not all the interest at our shows stems from the Open Section. Tony Stanley won the Gordon Harrison Cup for the most first prize points in the Intermediate Section with a number of very well grown plants, one of which I recognised from its appearance the previous week at Kendal. However it had been given a slight name change! Saxifraga georgei FW83 had become PW83 following discussions at the earlier outing. Further detective work and contact with Adrian Young – the International Cultivar Registrar for Saxifraga – tells us the correct labelling should read Saxifraga aff. georgei EW83, the EW referring to 'Expedition Wartzburg Everest'. Perhaps more important than the correct collection number is the need to insert the 'aff.' element, which indicates that expert opinion believes this plant to have very close affinities with S. georgei but doubts exist. As such, it makes sense to reserve judgment regarding its precise identity.

You may detect an emerging theme: the labelling/naming of our plants. This provides some exhibitors with an added dimension to their hobby but most of us will ignore the intricacies and vagaries of naming/origins and just enjoy these fine plants.

Alan Newton is another exhibitor who can be relied on to stray from the tried and tested exhibits and acquaint us with something different. Oresitrophe rupifraga was one such example at Hexham. A member of the Saxifragaceae, it comes from China, growing in ravines, on cliffs and rock crevices and sending up, atop longish stalks, clusters of small fluffy pinkish-white flower heads, unmistakably saxifrage related on close inspection of the individual flowers. Alan grows his plant in a woodland mix of peat, bark, sand & perlite, moving it outside after flowering (the leaves increase greatly in size, and frequent watering is required throughout the summer) then providing winter protection in a cold frame, when the foliage has died away.

It's been said before in show reports but it's always nice to see our native primrose. Occasionally shown in the Intermediate and Novice Sections, it is rarely deemed worthy of the premier league. Well, not only was Tom Green's plant entered in the Open Section but it was shown in a large half-pot, convincingly winning the class for one pan rock plant native to the British Isles. Well done and well won!

In addition to the competitive classes there were two very substantial displays across the far end of the hall. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh staged a large Display of Bulbous Plants and the North East England AGS Group staged a pictorial display entitled 'Alpine Plant Hunters'. Each comprised a tremendous amount of content and clearly represented a tremendous amount of effort to plan and then to stage. Both were deservedly given Gold Awards (the highest available under Scottish rules).

Author: Don Peace
Photographer: Mike Dale

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