Traditionally, the two Irish Shows are held on three weeks apart in April, and alternate. This year it was the turn of the Ulster Show to fill the later slot, and in a late spring this undoubtedly benefited what proved to be a full and colourful Show. The Greenmount Horticultural College is situated in the depths of the Antrim countryside, and forms an excellent venue with a good hall facing the college cafeteria which stayed open throughout. There were six trade stands, and it was evident that the many visitors were attracted by these facilities, and the beautiful grounds of the college, as well as the Show. I was most impressed to find some very attractive plantings in the gardens provided by the AGS Ulster Group, and conspicuously labelled as such. This is an idea that could well be copied elsewhere, and may have helped to persuade a number of new members to join on the day.
The Irish Shows are evenly patronised from throughout the island, and the Show was delighted to welcome back Dubliner Liam Byrne after a year’s furlough. His 36 entries brought a shower of silverware, including the Cooke Cup for the most points in the open section, the Garratt Cup for three pans bulbous plants, and the Festival of Britain Trophy for three pans rock plants at 19 cm or less. He also won a Certificate of Merit for a very well-flowered Ranunculus parnassifolius, and I particularly enjoyed his Pleione aurita with vivid pink flowers, although it did not win its class.
Despite competition from a large and evenly-flowered Daphne petraea ‘grandiflora’ (Susan Tindall) which was given a Certificate, there was little doubt amongst the judges that the premier award should go to a magnificent Paeonia cambessedesii, no less than 13 of the 12 cm flowers in perfect condition, resting on the foliage in an excitingly compact form. Such is the merit of this plant, that it had easily won a foliage class three weeks previously. The exhibitor, Gordon Toner lives not far from the Show Hall and was gaining his first Farrer Medal, as well as his Gold Merit Medal on the day, giving much pleasure all round. Amongst other prizes the Alpines ’96 award for the best Australasian plant went to Mr and Mrs George Gordon for Leucopodon (formerly Cyathodes) colensoi. We expect good New Zealand plants in Ireland, and I also enjoyed Billy Moore’s dwarf golden form of Astelia nivicola. The Betty Hill Trophy for the best plant in section B was won by Mary McAlister for Vaccinium nummularium, the C H Hammer trophy for the best plant in section C went to Mark Smyth for Daphne ‘SDR 2’, a hybrid of David Rankin’s raising, and the Phebe Anderson Trophy for three plants for seed was won by Harold McBride.
There were two special exhibits, both of primulas, and both of which were given a Silver Award. Glasnevin National Botanic Garden showed Auriculas mounted in a black ‘theatre’, and Joe Kennedy presented his new Irish primrose crosses. Glasnevin exhibited some very unusual plants in 16 classes, including a 40 cm black spaceship labelled Amorphophallus riveri. This ‘dwarf’ relative of the titan arum, seen at Kew, smells less repugnant than its massive cousin, and apparently tolerates culture under cold glass, at least in Dublin. Their visit was also rewarded by winning the SRGC Quaich for the best plant in a 19 cm or smaller pan. The well-flowered plant was a good deal more creditable than the label ‘Iris japonica’.
As always the art exhibits were of a high quality, and I particularly enjoyed the South American photographs of the local exhibitor Liam McCaughey whose shots of Oxalis erythrorhiza, Oreopolus glacialis and Ranunculus semiverticillatus cunningly melded foreground and background, both as a result of good technique, and in one example, digital cunning. The photographic judge Dr Gordon Gray had pleaded a year off so that he as a founder member could attend the 50th anniversary meet to celebrate the founding of his rowing club at the celebrated Castlewellan regatta. His replacement as Show judge had to cry off at short notice and Gordon nobly drove the 50 miles from the regatta to the Show and back, to return in time for the celebratory lunch.