Primula auricula

The auricula has a long and fascinating history starting from a cross between 2 European alpine primulas. There are 2 schools of thought as to how auriculas reached England.

One is that they were introduced by Flemish weavers fleeing religious persecution in the 1570s. However, at that time, these plants were still novelties and were grown only by the rich.

The 2nd school of thought says that it is more probable they arrived, as did most other flowers, by interchange between leading Continental and English plantsmen. Whichever it was, they became very popular and were popular with artists.

The auricula was one of the great florist’s flowers, some of the others being anemone, ranunculi, tulips and carnations. The term ˜florist” was originally applied in the 1600s to a person who grew plants for the sake of their decorative flowers rather than for any useful property the plant might have. The modern meaning of florist only came into being towards the end of the 19th century.

A Group of Serious Florists 1896

The florists formed groups with like-minded people to meet and hold ‘feasts’. By the 19th century the florists groups were very popular with working class people in the industrial North and Midlands of England. They met in public houses to show off their tulips, auriculas, primulas and carnations and to weigh their giant gooseberries. Prizes at their shows were frequently copper kettles & the public houses would often hang a copper kettle outside on show days. Towards the end of the 19th century, a movement developed against what were termed “artificial flowers” and florists flowers lost popularity, some disappearing completely.

The auricula, however, retained a loyal following especially in the north of England, although Stripes vanished and Doubles became rare. Many of the named varieties vanished with the 2 world wars. They owe much of their current magnificence to dedicated breeders in the United Kingdom and it is from there that I have sourced most of my 200+ named varieties.

Alpines at English show
Neika plant fair mix