It’s true! Auriculas are the Marmite of the plant kingdom as, for every gardener who adores them, there will another one who cannot stand them. For every one person who collects every Auricula they can lay their hands on, there will be another person avoiding them like the plague. So why is it that a plant can divide opinions to such an extent? It is perhaps more complex than it initially seems.
Auriculas have fallen out of favour to a large extent and are languishing in that deep, dark hole still filled with pinks, carnations and chrysanthemums. Dahlias were dragged out of the hole, kicking and screaming into the light, a few years ago, but for many years they were out of favour too. Hard to believe how gardeners can be so fickle, I know, and overlook plants which have so much to offer.
The Auricula was loved by the working man from the 17th century onwards; indeed it was a plant which was almost revered. Men travelled from show to show to exhibit them, in the hope of winning the big prizes offered, and they were collected and displayed by working and middle classes alike, often in Auricula Theatres. I posted about their fascinating history last year, so here is the link if you are interested: ‘Auricula Spectacular‘.
It is the aesthetics of the Auricula which divide people into lovers or haters however, as they are a bit of an acquired taste. There is something very stiff, formal and almost artificial about them, and I must admit, it took me a long time to see beyond that to their true beauty. The flowers are just perfect. Those tight, rounded buds give a clue to the colour of the flower which is extremely tantalising, then when they open it is such a joyful, open face that they present to the world.
I love the simplicity of the flower, the wide range of colours and the way that they feel precious. This preciousness is nothing to do with money, as they are cheaper than many plants to buy. I feel the same way about certain roses, and find it hard to analyse why. They are very fleeting flowers, but then so are many others. They are very beautiful flowers, but, so then are many others. They just feel special somehow. Maybe it is the sense of history that they bring with them, and that is also true for the roses. I love plants which have history and reach out to me from across the centuries.
There is a rich, velvet quality to the petals, and a real depth of colour, yet some look so delicate that they almost look hand painted. For most of the year they sit there, doing very little, but the excitement is palpable when the first flowers stems start to grow.
There are some Auriculas which are extra special and those are the Farinas. They have glaucous grey foliage and look as if they have been dusted all over with flour, hence ‘Farina’ (also referred to as ‘meal’). They almost look iced or frosted! The Farina is usually washed off by the rain, so that is why many enthusiasts choose to keep them under cover, in order to preserve it.
There are many fantastic historical Auricula Theatres used for displaying them over the years, and they are traditionally displayed on black cloth to show them off to advantage. Mine, however, are in a (cough) ‘Theatre’ which cost a few pounds from our local Architectural Salvage yard – a pair of old wooden steps, with the paint peeling off. I use terracotta pots to display them in, but there is a school of thought which prefers plastic pots, which do not dry out as readily.
I am a couple of weeks away from the height of my personal display of Auriculas and they are nearly all budding or starting to bloom. My only problem is my big, fat clumsy fantail doves which insist on trying to perch on the top of the steps and knock off the pots, usually resulting in breakages !
Last Autumn I divided lots of my Auriculas and potted up all the babies, so I have a good selection of young plants in the greenhouse.