AURICULA (Primula auricula), an Alpine plant, which has been an inmate of British gardens for about three hundred years, and is still prized by florists as a favourite spring flower. It loves a cool soil and shady situation. The florists' varieties are grown in rich composts, for the preparation of which numberless receipts have been given; but many of the old nostrums are now exploded, and a more rational treatment has taken their place. Thus Mr Douglas writes (Hardy Florists' Flowers): -
"There is no mystery, as some suppose, about the potting, any more than there is about the potting material. The compost should consist of turfy loam four parts, leaf-mould one part, sharp river or silver sand one part, and a few bits of broken charcoal mixed with it. The pots to be used should be from 3 to 4 in. in diameter, inside measure; about 1 in. of potsherds should be placed in the bottom of each pot, and over this some fibrous turf, from which the fine particles of earth have been removed. The old soil should be shaken from the roots of the plants to be potted; and before potting cut off, if necessary, a portion of the main root. In potting press the soil rather firmly around the roots."
Auriculas are best grown in a cold frame mounted on legs about 2 ft. from the ground, and provided with hinged sashes. A graduated stage formed of wood battens 6 in. broad, with a rise of 2 in., should be fixed so as to take each one row of pots, with the plants standing at about 15 in. from the glass; the spaces between the shelves should be closed, while the top board of the back and the front should be hinged so as to be let down when desired for ventilation, the sashes, too, being movable for the same purpose, and also to afford facilities for examining and attending to the plants. This frame should face the north from May to October, and south in winter. No protection will be needed except in very severe frosts, when two or three thicknesses of garden mats may be thrown over the glass, and allowed to remain on until the soil is thawed, should it become frozen.
Auriculas may be propagated from seed, which is to be sown as soon as ripe, in July or August, in boxes, kept under cover, and exposed only to the rays of the morning Sun. When seed has been saved from the finer sorts, the operation is one of considerable nicety, as it not unfrequently happens that the best seedlings are at first exceedingly weak. They generally flower in the second or third year, a few good sorts being all that can be expected from a large sowing. The established varieties are increased by taking off the offshoots, an operation performed at the time of potting in July or the beginning of August. But some varieties are very shy in producing offsets.
The original of the auricula is a hardy perennial herb, of dwarf habit, bearing dull yellowish blossoms. This and the commoner forms raised from seed, as well as one or two double forms, are interesting hardy border flowers. The choice florists' varieties are divided into five classes: - the green-edged, with the margins of the flowers green; the grey-edged, with the green margins powdered with meal so as to appear to be coloured grey; the white-edged, with the mealy powder so dense as to cover the green; the selfs, which have none of the green variegation of margin seen in the foregoing, but are of some distinct colour, as purple, maroon, etc., but have, like the preceding, a white paste surrounding the eye; and the alpines, which resemble the selfs in not having any green marginal variegation, but differ in having a yellow centre more or less dense. The individual flowers of the first three groups of florists' auriculas show four distinct circles: - first the eye or tube, which should have the stamens lying in it, but sometimes has the pin-headed stigma instead, which is a defect; second, the paste or circle of pure white surrounding the eye; third, the body colour, a circle of some dark tint, as maroon or violet, which feathers out more or less towards the edge, but is the more perfect the less it is so feathered, and is quite faulty if it breaks through to the outer circle; fourth, the margin, which is green or grey or white. These circles should be about equal in width and clearly defined, and the nearer they are to this standard the more perfect is the flower. In the group of selfs the conditions are the same, except that there is no margin, and consequently the body colour, which should be uniform in tone, extends to the edge. In the alpines there should be no paste or white surrounding the eye, but this space should be either golden-yellow or creamy-yellow, which makes two subdivisions in this group; and the body colour is more or less distinctly shaded, the edges being of a paler hue. There is besides a group of laced alpines, in which a distinct and regular border of colour surrounds each of the marginal lobes.
The following is a selection of the best varieties cultivated in 1909: -
Green-edged. - Abbé Liszt, Abraham Barker, Shirley Hibberd, Prince Charming, Mrs Henwood.
Grey-edged. - Amy Robsart, George Lightbody, Marmion, Olympus, George Rudd, Richard Headly.
White-edged. - Acme, Conservative, Heather Bell, Mrs Dodson, Rachel, Smiling Beauty.
Selfs. - Andrew Miller, Gerald, Mikado, Mrs Phillips, Mrs Potts, Harrison Weir.
Alpines. - Argus, Dean Hole, Duke of York, Firefly, Flora Mclvor, Mrs Douglas, Mrs Markham, Perfection, Phyllis, Rosy Morn, The Bride, Teviotdale.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)