Contents of the Winter 2012 Northants News

                    The National Show                          Trevor Wray

I was really looking forward to the National. This year I had my entry form submitted in time, (you might remember I forgot and didn’t meet the deadline four years ago). There was some choice in some of the classes but the contending plants had all been carefully groomed for some weeks. (naturally they had all been carefully grown for some years!) When it came to the actual decision several plants shortlisted for 90mm classes turned out to be 92mm. Two millimetres might not matter but this was the National! And several plants were in dirty or old pots; there was a frenzy of repotting into brand new pots and the plants were treated to new topdressing. I was quite pleased with the result and carefully packed two heavy crates with my entries.

The journey to the show was nearly uneventful; a return for my forgotten sandwiches and water (that last turned out to be essential), and a one junction overshoot on the A14 got me there with half an hour to spare.

I was greeted by stewards in the car park and directed to the unloading point. Several stewards greeted me and offered help to unload my car. Thanks, I didn’t need help, but the offer was appreciated.

It didn’t take long to stage my plants, which was lucky as I was one of the last exhibitors. Old labels in the pots marked clearly with the class number helped me avoid confusion and a dreaded NAS comment.

Now to enjoy the show…

I volunteered to help with plant photography. Taking a good plant picture is fairly easy with a studio setup – table, backcloth, tripod and especially sunlight. At the National the artificial light has an awful colour cast but helped by Jean, my steward, (thanks), we duly completed the task and the images seem OK. Time now to really enjoy the show…

It seemed logical to work round all the exhibits. Yes, I knew I could start with those that most interested me and especially the classes I had entered, but I knew that I would just miss out on parts of the show. So I started at class 1 and looked at all 134 of them. I took more pictures of those that interested me.

Class 1 for Ariocarpus had some immaculate and very old plants. Richard Bleay’s winner was perfect, could this standard be repeated in all the classes? Well, actually no, and I wished I had entered some of the cactus classes. But not the Mammillarias! Class 21 for one Mammillaria had the usual perfect bombycinas weighing a ton. A pair of them achieved only, (I say ‘only’!), ‘Highly Commended’. 


Left: Richard Bleay’s superb Ariocarpus retusus won first prize in Class 1

Uebelmannia pectinifera

I came to Gillian Evison’s superb Uebelmannia pectinifera. (Left) It won its class but appeared not to be ‘Best Cactus’ in the Show this time. You remember this won the accolade four years ago and the picture was on the Schedule cover. What could be better? I soon found it -  a vast Opuntia clavarioides. (Right) I have mixed feelings about Uebelmannias; they seem to grow quite quickly with heat, but undoubtedly this Opuntia was the better plant.

Then a surprise – my little Sulcorebutia rauschii crest had won a first in a class for cristates. I had only entered it as an afterthought; it is difficult to make an impression in the cactus classes. So the little grafted blob I bought around four years ago at Explorers had repaid the investment. Actually in the cristate classes there were many plants I found attractive even though I am not especially a fan of these plants.

Opuntia clavarioides

Above: Uebelmannia pectinifera grown by Gillian Evison won class 44 for one plant from the Melocactus Group. You can see that the plant feels really miffed now we have shown it a picture taken when it was the Best Cactus in the 2008 National. It was pipped by the plant opposite.

Above: Opuntia clavarioides, the Best Cactus in the Show and awarded a RHS Gold Medal as well.

Class 55 for One Cactus was one of those with poor support. And surprise, the two entries were both Mammillaria plumosa. Memo to self, I must have one cactus in my collection good enough to get a third here, but not M. plumosa, (too boring!).

Then we came to the plants that interest me more. A neat plant in miniature-tree bonsai style labelled Tylecodon buchholzianus took first in Class 73 for the Adromischus Subgroup. I grow many of these at home but this was a form to covet, smothered in red flowers. Tylecodon generally lose all their leaves in summer but this still had a few. By contrast a leafless plant of Tylecodon striatus took third and appeared to be completely dormant. However wispy stalks trailed away and over other exhibits to terminate in dull green-brown flowers. So strictly speaking, ‘growing’, I suppose.

Giant plants of Cotyledon orbiculatum (in the nice ‘oophylla’ form) and Pachyphytum oviferum impressed me in the next few classes and then there was the next surprise. Next to that Pachyphytum was the best (other) Succulent in the Show. A plant of Echeveria tolimanensis. A superb, large, branching plant of this slow growing species again exhibited by that ace grower Gillian Evison. But ‘Best Succulent’? This is an easy plant to grow, (though leaves are just a little reluctant to root). I keep sales plants in a cold greenhouse and have never lost any. I am sure there were more worthy plants but never mind. It makes a good story and I will double the price of my propagated Tollys. Incidentally if you want a branching plant like the exhibit, propagate this from leaves. Rooted leaves often produce several plantlets. I tease these apart to make more natural single heads but left they will make a cluster.

Echeveria tolimanensis

Above: Best succulent in the Show? The judges awarded this fine plant of Echeveria tolimanensis the accolade, so who wants to argue? 
Othonna euphorbioides Next to interest me were plants from the Othonna Group. Many Senecios exhibited here seemed to be pruned to fit. Obviously if you want a compact plant this seems to be the way but very unnatural. I especially liked John Betteley’s third place Othonna euphorbioides and put it on my wish list. When I got home I found I had it already! But it has a very long way to grow from my one inch sprig to the stature of John's plant. Our Tina had a ‘First’ in the limited pot class for her curious Senecio saginata, a sort of upper-class S. articulata. Well done, Tina! container display of Lithops.

Above: An attractive, compact shrub of Othonna euphorbioides grown by John Betteley.

Above: Brian Fearn’s winning exhibit in Class 97 for a container display of Lithops.

Then I had a nice surprise, I had won three firsts in the Lithops classes. Thanks Judges! It was especially pleasing because these plants had been grown by me from seed sown around thirty years ago. Prize money to spend on more plants – though not enough to give up my day job, (oh that’s right, I have).

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I think that one of the most instructive aspects of the Show are the ‘Schematic’ and ‘Collection’ classes. Our Kelvin also reported that he enjoyed these. These are supported by growers who specialise and it is an opportunity for them to display aspects of their dedication and educate us. Perhaps this is what we should be growing! Outstanding for me were the 26 Haworthias (left) displayed by Stirling (and Mrs) Baker to illustrate colour and texture variations in the genus. Each plant was a little gem. I took individual pictures of a great many plants in this display. Although not in these classes, Brian Fearn’s collection of well grown Lithops in a pan in Class 97 (above) was also a good illustration of the variation to be found in this genus. These classes require quite a lot of skill and even extra labour to support and we should be thankful that some growers make this effort.

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Above: Superb Haworthias won Class 129 for a thematic display. 

Above: Winning Astrophytums in Class 130 for a collection from one group.

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Cactus or Succulent? Some cristates at the National.

Try your skill to identify whether these plants above are cacti or succulents... Give in?

The two left ones are both Euphorbias, Left: E. caducifolia, normally a 10 ft shrub in W. Pakistan and Second Euphorbia obesa, the normal head is a bit of a give-away.

The two right are both cacti. Third Copiapoa tenuissima and on the Right: Lophophora williamsii.

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Strange thing was that though I thought I had seen and photographed all the interesting plants, when I looked on the BCSS Forum there were masses of pictures of great plants I don’t seem to have seen. Search Google for ‘BCSS Forum’ to see for yourself.

Pseudolithos cubiforme

Two rare plants at the National.

Left: Pseudolithos cubiforme. 

Right: Pseudolithos migiurtinus. These are from Somalia and tricky to grow. We see them on the showbench on a regular basis but where are the plants that won in 2008 and 2004?



Pseudolithos migiurtinus

Pseudolithos cubiforme

Pseudolithos migiurtinus

So to the sales. Some of us only go to Nationals to buy plants, there is a vast array, but I have too many already. But you have to look, (don’t you?). Because of the lack of space at home my purchases were modest. (Yet) another Adromischus, a tiny Anacampseros that won’t challenge me for space, and a plant called Pachyphytum oviferum rosea. This looks like a rose coloured form of the well-known ‘sugar almonds’ and I suspect a hybrid, but time and some flowers will tell. Strangely Kelvin didn’t buy many either; a Melocactus, a Stetsonia and a Blossfeldia. At least that won’t take much room!

A brisk trade was in process and all the traders seemed well pleased. There was a stall selling the ingredients for specialist composts for those who like to indulge their plants, (and are rich). Akadama, Kanuma, Kiru and Ezo Pumice were there for all those magic potions. Don’t ask me, but I know what pumice is. Nurserymen from all over Europe had their plant prices in Euros which apparently makes them cheap at the moment. The Czechs were doing a brisk trade in bare-root rarities. Southfields had some lovely specimen plants if these are your desire. They also had plants of Echeveria ‘Compton Carousel’ still on my want list and still too expensive; no discount at the National!

Eventually time was called, prizes were awarded and it was time to collect our plants and leave. I have a very positive feeling about this show. The organisation seemed first class and I could not fault it. Perhaps the show room was too hot but that is just the humidity of an English summer and I will soon forget that. I will remember those superb plants, the sales and the company and friends I met. Kelvin thought that though the general standard was lower he really enjoyed meeting his friends from round the country.

Roll on 2016 and maybe I might win another first in a cactus class. Or maybe not!  

You can see some more of the National Show here...

A Strange One at the Show  (Is Pygmaeocereus ever allowed in the Cereus Group?)

A Roaring Trade at the National   (A quick look round the trade stands at the Show)

Bigger is Best! (A baby Boojum comes first)

Final report from the Show  (That will be it for another four years.)



Right: Too good to be true is this plant of Pediocactus despainii. I have never seen a cluster of this species in habitat (yet!) and it is just so robust and healthy. So we ask the question, as I am sure the Judges did, ‘is it grafted?’

You can’t see the stock but my thinking is that if it is too good to be true, it’s grafted. A week later I met the grower; a delicate question, ‘Yes, of course it’s grafted.’

Still a lovely looking, rare and difficult plant to enjoy. I bet flowering time is a treat too.



Pediocactus despainii at the BCSS National

Pediocactus despainii


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