Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Jewels of the Alps; AURICULAS ARE 'FLORIST' FLOWERS THAT INSPIRE A LEVEL OF PERFECTION BORDERING ON THE FANATICAL

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Jewels of the Alps; AURICULAS ARE 'FLORIST' FLOWERS THAT INSPIRE A LEVEL OF PERFECTION BORDERING ON THE FANATICAL

Article excerpt

Byline: YOUR GARDEN With Diarmuid Gavin

ONE of the joys of visiting a flower show is the chance to reconnect with some traditions of garden craft. In our ever-changing world where times and seasons seem to whizz by, it's reassuring to meet dedicated growers who, year in year out, seek to perfect beautiful aspects of certain species.

Flower shows present them with the perfect stage to display the results of their toil.

Topping the list for me has always been the auricula theatres created at the Chelsea Flower Show - stepped displays of potted florals against a black background to create a theatrical set piece.

My favourite Chelsea display was often created by William Lockyer and family. William, or Bill as he was known to his friends, would attend with wife Joan and son Simon, dressed in formal suit, tie and bowler hat.

I visited their home on one occasion to see the breeding, growing and selection process.

Sadly Bill is no longer with us but the joy that he brought to so many will live on.

Auriculas are members of the Primula family and spring is their time to shine - so the best examples are often held back for display in the third week of May. So now is a good time to chat about them before they get lost in the blur of late spring action. Auriculas are alpine flowers, hailing from the great mountain ranges of central Europe - the Alps in France, the Apennines in Italy and across to the Tatra mountains of Slovakia and Poland.

Also known as the mountain cowslip, the auricula was introduced to Britain at the end of the 16th century by the Huguenots.

It became a 'florist' flower meaning that it was grown in pots for display at exhibitions, and specialist societies were founded.

It's one of those plants, like orchids and tulips, that inspired great passion and even obsession.

Today, there are more than a thousand cultivars and enthusiasts are always on the look out for new varieties. So what is all the fuss about? Well, it's the flowers - their shape, the jewel-like colours and exquisite delicacy of markings. Once you start to delve into the minutiae of the various classifications of auriculas and their characteristics, it's clear that it is a specialist subject with a language all its own - pips and trusses, pastes and grounds, stripes and selfs. …

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