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by Rachael Castle of Swallowfield’s Nursery
Growing Primula auricula is a passion for us here at Swallowfield’s Nursery. With their jewel-like colours, captivating markings, and enchanting scent they are quick to bewitch and beguile. During April and May we plant them in traditional terracotta pots and display them in auricula theatres where the contrast with the dark background of the theatre makes their vibrant colours and forms look even more vivid and rich. Growers have been displaying auriculas in this way for hundreds of years and it feels good to be following in the footsteps of this ancient tradition.
First plant your auriculas into terracotta pots.
Then decide how big a theatre you need and what you want to make it out of.
The theatre pictured above began life as the top half of a dresser which we found on a bonfire just about to be burned. We rescued it, sanded it down, and gave it a few coats of paint and some feet to steady it. Wooden wine boxes would also make wonderful mini-theatres. It is important to consider the ultimate height of the flower stem when designing your theatre as you do not want blooms to be crushed by the upper shelf. Plants should not be permanently kept in the theatre throughout the year as this environment does not provide enough all-round light, but they can be put into position when a plant is just about to come into flower. The best place to put your theatre is on a cool, northerly wall out of strong sunlight.
If you just want to show off one plant individually you might consider putting a frame around it as we have done here as part of this display.
There are various categories of auricula and a mixture of these in your theatre provides interest and contrast. Sometimes these categories can be a little hard to understand so here follows a description of each to help de-mystify.
Border auriculas are the type of auricula you may remember growing in granny’s garden. They have long been a favourite of cottage garden planting. With their muted colours and beautifully scented blooms they have an understated charm and resilience. They do not have the vivid markings of other auricula types but more than make up for this by their abundance of flowers and their easy nature.
Alpine auriculas fall into two types: Gold-centred alpines and light-centred alpine. The former have petals of wonderfully gradated colours in the brown spectrum with a rich golden-yellow centre. Light-centred alpines also have gradated colours in their petals but within the purple-blue spectrum. Their centre is a pale whitish-yellow.
Selfs are easy to recognise as they have one clear petal colour usually yellow, blue or red. At their centre they have a perfect ring of white powder or farina.
Doubles come in a range of colours and forms, some with very dense ruffled petals and other with almost camellia-like blooms. They usually have a beautiful scent.
There are as many different striped auriculas as your imagination can conceive. They usually have a frilly edge and some of the colour combinations are exquisite.
Edged auriculas are often highly sought as their striking colours and patterns of farina are truly captivating. They take a little more skill to look after and are perhaps something to buy once you have tried your hand at some of the easier categories.
Fancy auriculas are those that do not conform to other categories. They can often have very unexpected and remarkable colourings.
So, let your imagination run riot and create your own bespoke auricula theatre.
Contact us at Swallowfields Nursery for details of our auriculas or our special Auricula Theatre starter collections.