A favorite of 19th century florist societies, Auricula continue to attract keen collectors and are one of the specialties of Woottens Nurseries in Suffolk. Discover care, propagation and 16 of the best auricles. Words Mary Keen, photos Richard Bloom
Woottens, in the Suffolk countryside near Wenhaston, five miles from the sea, was founded in 1990 by Michael Loftus, a much admired planter. In 2016, four years after his death, his widow sold the nursery to two women who, working with Loftus, had inherited much of his knowledge and shared his particular interest in irises, geraniums, hemerocallis and auricles.
Auriculas are fussy, and for that they have some help from Gillian’s partner Jenny Stafford – in the past propagation was done by Sandra Sutton, who has bred more than 30 of Woottens’ own hybrids. After the polytunnel collapsed during a storm in 2018, it had to be re-clad and it took a few seasons to rebuild the collection. However, in 2020 they bought the Drointon collection of 2,000 exhibition auricles and now Woottensis is one of the best places to buy auricles.
What are auricles?
In the 18th and 19th centuries, auricles were among the most popular plants collected by members of English florist societies, and they remain popular with collectors to this day. Although Alpine auricles are generally hardy enough to grow in borders, Luci and Gillian believe both show and Alpine auricles are best grown in individual pots and perhaps displayed in a traditional Auricula theater where the wide range of different flowers in wonderful colors are shown can be fully appreciated.
How to grow auricles
Root aphids have been a nuisance for Auricula growers lately, so I wanted to learn how to manage their plants. Gillian says these picky alpine residents hate being too wet, but they also don’t like too dry summers because aphids thrive in dry conditions.
Many growers divide their plants after flowering, but life in the nursery is too busy so their plants are usually divided in July-August. When root aphids strike, all the compost is removed and the roots are then washed with horticultural soap.
Plants receive a high phosphorus, very low nitrogen root feed in early February and a potassium feed to encourage flowering two weeks later and then every two weeks. Woottens uses a compost that is 50 percent peat substitute, 25 percent gravel or perlite, and 25 percent clay, like John Innes, with some slow-release fertilizer added.
Auriculae grow in crevices in rocks, so they don’t like being overpotted. Ideally, they are in a shady, east-facing location that is protected from moisture in winter.
How to multiply auricles
The only way to faithfully reproduce an auricle from its parent is to take offsets from that parent. You can do this anytime while the plant is actively growing, but it’s probably best to make offsets during post-flowering repotting.
• Begin by thoroughly removing and cleaning all old compost from the roots if there are signs of pests or disease.