April the ninth dawned cool and bright – perfect for the early morning drive from Dublin, and for transporting the plants into the show hall. The drifts of spring bulbs, dotted around the show venue (the Greenmount Agricultural and Horticultural College campus) sparkled in the sunlight, giving our spirits a lift. There are only two AGS shows each year in Ireland, one in Ulster and one in Dublin, both held in April and alternating; one early, the other late. This year the early show was held in Ulster, and was thoroughly enjoyed by exhibitors from the Ulster and Dublin Groups, set to stir into action again later in the month down south.
The long, cold spring brought mixed blessings for the show bench this year, with some plants that would normally be over in early April remaining in fine fettle, while many others that should be in full flower were still in bud. Early fears that the poor weather would result in a big drop in entries proved unfounded, and, while there were a few gaps, the show was well up to standard with many fine plants on the benches.
Pat Crossley, who is the longest serving Show Secretary in the AGS, and her team are to be congratulated on a well run show that went without a hitch. The Acting Director of Shows, Mary Randall, kept the judges in order, gently but firmly.
The predominant genera on the benches were Trillium and Pulsatilla. One of Harold McBride’s plants in his Festival of Britain Trophy-winning large three-pan entry was a very fine pink form of Pulsatilla ambigua [top image], a species that he has maintained for years from seed, selecting only the best forms. Several of the other Pasque Flowers that attracted attention also had a McBride connection, as the exhibitors had either received their plants from Harold, or grown them from seed obtained from him. One of these was the seldom seen P. sukaczewii [left] which won a Certificate of Merit for Gavin Moore. Another was a very nice white Pulsatilla grandis exhibited by Paddy Smith. Paddy has become established as Ireland’s most successful grower of gentians, and reinforced his standing by winning the Cowan Trophy for the best pan of Gentiana with G. clusii.
Gordon Toner is an outstanding grower of trilliums and was awarded Certificates of Merit for two different forms of T. chloropetalum, one with dark flowers and the other an attractive pink and white. This reporter’s yellow-flowered T. chloropetalum ‘Bob Gordon’ was also given a Certificate of Merit as well as the Frank Walsh Cup for the winner of the one pan bulbous class in the large Open Section. This plant was written about in some detail in the 2014 Ulster Show report. There were numerous examples of the quite variable T. rivale on the benches, the nicest form of which, in my opinion, was Val Keegan’s. Val was given a few bulbs by Helen Dillon many years ago, and, by regular repotting, has produced a potful that has been the recipient of quite a few red stickers over the years.
Gordon Toner also won the award for the most points in the Open Section. His skills as a grower are not confined to trilliums by any means. His large pan of Primula ‘Linda Pope’ got a lot of attention as did his arresting specimen of Pulsatilla ‘ex Budapest’.
The best plant in the Novice Section in flower was first time exhibitor Gordon Finch’s Cassiope mertensiana var. gracilis, one of the very few ericaceous plants on the benches. This paucity is, unusual for the Ulster Show, which has long been noted for fine exhibits of these plants. The dearth of ericaceous specimens was probably due to the long cold spring which had delayed flowering. Gordon also received the Diamond Jubilee Award for the best pan of Ericaceae in the Novice Section and the award for most points in that Section. The Carol McCutcheon Award for the best pan of Ericaceae in the Show went to Frank Lavery’s well-flowered Rhododendron ‘Shamrock’.
Saxifrages were also unusually scarce. I liked Cilla Dodd’s S. ‘Allendale Bonny’ [right] in the Intermediate Section, which I hadn’t seen before. A nice specimen of S. stribrnyi, a plant that I’m fond of, earned a red sticker for George Gordon.
In the Intermediate Section a very floriferous Cyclamen persicum [left], shown by Mac Dunlop, was adjudged the best plant in the Section, and the award for the most points in the Section also went to Mac. George Sevastopulo’s C. persicum in the Open Section was in fine condition too, even though it had been in flower for weeks.
Susan Tindall received the Alpines ‘96 Award for her large pan of Celmisia astelifolia, while her excellent specimen of Primula ‘Netta Dennis’ was given the SRGC Quaich for the best plant in a pan not exceeding 19cm. Susan also showed a very nice example of Jeffersonia dubia which was widely admired.
The Crassulaceae classes are not often mentioned in show reports but Liam Byrne’s three-pan exhibit of Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’, Sempervivum ciliosum var. borisii and Crassula socialis, each in a 36cm pot, deserves inclusion.
The Farrer Medal went to this reporter’s Dionysia aretioides ‘Phyllis Carter’ which probably benefited from the late season. Usually by early April it is past its best.
Finally, a well-deserved Gold Award was given to a non-competitive photographic exhibit by Joan and Liam McCaughey entitled ‘Alpines on Five Continents’. This fine exhibit, along with a smaller one by Heather Smith, replaced the much lamented, discontinued, Photographic Section, which had become such an integral part of AGS shows over recent years, adding an additional dimension to the show environment, and was valued by visitors who were often intrigued to see photos from the wild of some of the plants on the benches.
Author: Billy Moore
Photographer: Heather Smith