Sunday, 31 January 2016

Primula auricula - The beauty and the obsession

The theatre at Harlow Carr

 I'm not sure of the exact moment it happened, it kind of crept up on me when i wasn't looking. One day i was just looking at pictures of them, the next i was thinking about which one id like. How could i choose just one? They're not meant to be grown in ones or twos, they beg to be grown 20 or 30 different varieties! They ask politely to be installed in dainty terracotta pots with horticultural grit spread lovingly around their base. They beseech you to place them in a black backed "theatre" so you can admire them at their best. To have black labels with the neatest white written script naming them so you can think of them as little plant people.... oh.... wait....i may have gone a bit far?
Nope! That's perfectly acceptable, if you're a bit obsessional about auriculas.

In my previous blog i touched on these beauties, gave you just one pic to tease you, truth be told i could wax lyrical about these little iced gems of the plant world for hours!
So now i shall!
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I'll begin....

On Friday i spoke to one of the Sissinghurst Gardeners, Josh '@joshsparkes01' on Twitter, he asked if id be joining them for Great Dixters upcoming  spring plant fair 2016, we met up last year which was truly lovely as i hadn't seen most of them since the previous July and i got to see Lex, my old HG, & Jackie too who were helping out on the the walled nursery stall.
Both Helen '@aboutagarden' and I have a bit of a thing for auriculas (is it possible to have a BIT of a thing for them? ) and spent quite some time drooling along with Josh.
Some of the nurseries i bought from

This passing comment awakened my thoughts on how i love them and what drives that desire, i cant tell you when it started but i can tell you who my very first love was, she is gorgeous and i love her still. Delicate, she wears her petals full and frilly with just the very finest of dusting around her head and leaves. May i introduce you to 'Miss Sibsey' (as she was sold to me way back in i think 2005/6). Having just rechecked i see she is now going under the name of  just 'Sibsey' but i love her just the same.

'Sibsey' my first love
I'm not even sure which nursery she came from, or which fair anymore but the obsession became full blown when in 2007 i started working at Ryton Organic Gardens and was given the Vegetable Kingdom, as it was known then, to look after. I have never before or since been such complete autonomy in a garden, i planned what was grown where and when, i was given total free rein to look after my section exactly as i saw fit and i loved it! I'll talk more about Ryton at a later date but i suffice to say i made lifelong friends there. People i adore! I learnt SO much! From the time i joined them in 2005 as a contractor to grow the plants for Chelsea and help with the 'Set up', then assisting in the gardens after, to the point where i left them in 2010 to spread my wings, every day, literally every day, i learnt something new!
I digress!
In my section the VK i was lucky enough to have a fabulous Alitex glasshouse, such luxury! It had Coldframes, Thermal shading, lighting, venting on the roof and on the sides, its own rain collection system and if that ever ran low mains water, beds to grow in and my pride and joy a show bench. I loved it!
I would spend ages choosing plants and bulbs to create displays throughout the year and as we were on a tight budget most would be grown from seed. Every night when i got home from work in the winter i would pore over seed & bulb catalogues, working out colour schemes and flowering times.

My show bench dispay

Me, faffing over my display in the Alitex

 I guess that was when my obsession became full blown as from March through April a huge amount of the display went over to auriculas. Some i inherited, some i brought with me but the most exciting one (to me) where the ones i grew from seed! When they got close to flowering i would check them every day! You never knew exactly what you were going to get!

 Now none of the ones i grew were technically show stoppers but there were some real beauties in there and it did mean i was completely hooked... oh I've just remembered my second named variety! Kevin Keegan! Ive got the football on in the background as i write this. Sadly Kevin succumbed to the dreaded vine weevil, my bad, sorry Kevin.

A very rushed visit to Chelsea in 2010 where i did the marquee in half an hr, i know right! Half an hr! allowed me time to take only one pic. This is what happens when you go to plant shows with people who see plants as secondary to a garden though....

In 2010 one of the last gardens i visited with my mum and dad was Harlow Carr, life had been a bit turbulent as mum had been ill but was at the time in remission.
 They had a fabulous little auricula theatre with these gems below, mum wasn't a big lover of them, she liked "proper flowers" but she did make me laugh at her descriptions of them. She really didn't like the Fancy's, she thought they didn't look real. Good times.

 The next time i saw auriculas was in 2012, i went for a day out to Great Dixter with one of our seasonals, Catherine, shes awesome!

Anyway when i left Ryton i took 2 or 3 of my babies with me and through subsequent house moves they travelled with me, suffering neglect, till finally i had only one which i thought was a named variety but wasn't sure and 2 of the seedlings id grown but had never flowered, due to said neglect. 4 long years they waited for me to have the time to love them properly, I've never known a plant so faithful and resilient! In 2014 i repotted them all into the little terracotta pots id been dragging round with me, top dressed them and told them i was sorry and that i loved them and i hoped they forgave me... and they did. In the spring of 2015 i watched flower spikes form on my long neglected babies....

Then my excitement peaked! My first one opened and...

 It was 'Sibsey'! My beautiful, faithful, wonderful Sibsey had survived! The joy was indescribable.
Then the self sown ones....

 My passion reignited, i spent the spring of 2015 chasing auriculas....
and buying a couple too....

 Heres a few from the shows...
Great Dixter...

 And Chelsea...


 Have i got you interested?
There's so many different types of auriculas and you can only name them after they have won at a show, that's the rule. All the ones I've grown from seed wouldn't be considered up to show standard and the standards are very strict. There are several different types and the features are set out here types of auricula
But that doesn't mean you cant just enjoy their beauty anyway.
If you'd like to know more about auriculas you cant do better than get in contact with these guys The national auricula and primula society
They can put you in touch with showers and growers in your local area.
I really hope that you may fall in love with these little guys like i have.
Part 2 of this blog going more into the history and technical details will be coming soon....

Miss Sibsey and i will be getting married in spring 2017 and plan on honeymooning in the mountain ranges of central Europe where her family comes from....

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