The National Auricula & Primula Society

Northern Section



Welcome to the Auricula Monthly Newsletter.

Intended primarily to those new members who wish to learn more about the care and propagation of these beautiful plants and indeed about the Society, however everyone is welcome.

Further information may also be found at Growing Guide.

December 2020

All Things Auricula - December 2020.

As we reach the end of 2020 I would imagine most of us are hoping for a better year in 2021. The only time the Society has not held an Auricula and Primula show was during WWII when the venue was obliterated by an enemy bomb. I have been spending as much time out in the garden as possible as it is a real ‘lifting the spirits’ experience. A number of times I have heard the faint ‘gobble, gobble, gobble’ of geese and as it got louder have spotted skeins of these remarkable creatures using the coast line to navigate southward to their winter feeding grounds. It struck me that, even though we are experiencing very challenging times, ‘nature’ still gets on with providing us with awesome spectacles and can be depended upon to give us wonderful displays year in and year out. With this in mind I am going to give, as Christmas presents, pots of miniature daffs, tubs of tulips and, if the grower is willing to take them on, a few Auriculas. Hope some of you will consider doing the same. However, if you are thinking of giving auriculas as presents, please give detailed instructions as to how to grow them. We have all heard comments that auriculas are sooooo difficult to grow – bought one last year, put it in south facing conservatory, watered it every day and lo and behold it DIED! In answer to this I recount my sighting of primulas growing in ideal conditions when I was on a trip to ICELAND! I went to a house in Stöðvarfjörður to see a collection of rocks, displayed in a garden. Among these were the most wonderful primulas, healthy and with not one bit of slug or snail damage growing in the garden all year round. I turned to look at the view from the garden and over the fjord were high snow- and ice- covered mountains – this was May! A lesson in not over-protecting any plant. My tip is think Iceland not Barbados.

If you are thinking of giving a plant as a present, it is best to check for pests and diseases before handing it over. I have spent the last few days checking every plant in my collection and have removed some slimy looking dead leaves - a sure sign of botrytis. I have taken off any double crowns before they get too big – they usually appear where the old stem was attached. Next, I am checking for red spider mite with a large magnifying glass and plenty of patience. The underside of a leaf is the most popular place and underneath the rim of the pot. Methylated spirit brushed around under the rim is a good deterrent and removing the mites with a cotton bud from the leaves is time consuming but it helps. I will repeat this process every few weeks, to keep on top of these horrible creatures, but total eradication is not something I think I will achieve. Has anyone had any success with biological control? There also seem to be biological controls available for vine weevil and as the most reliable chemical control has been withdrawn alternatives need to be found. I would be very interested to hear from you with your observations and suggestions – .

Now is the time to catch up with jobs that have been put off – have you washed and disinfected used pots? If not get on with it as pests and diseases can over winter in them. Also check if you have sufficient supplies of 3” and 3½” pots. The latter are becoming difficult to source and if left too late you will run out.

I have not had any member responding to my query re using peat free compost in their mix. I do not know if it has not been tried by many or the results are not clear cut. I will continue with my endeavours to find out and keep you posted. However, I have received an e-mail, from a member, about using mole hill soil. He writes about a gardener who used this soil but it had been contaminated by a farmer using a substance to kill the moles and he became very ill! When asking the land owner for permission be aware and ask if any substance has been added.

With days becoming shorter it is only us retired folk who have the chance to visit our greenhouses and cold frames during daylight in mid week but, for those less fortunate, evenings can be used to read one of the many auricula and primula books available second hand, on popular web sites, to help them with greenhouse withdrawal symptoms. Some of the older ones make fascinating reading.

It may seem a long way off but once Christmas is over the new ‘season’ will be soon on the horizon. In early February, the leaves of our plants will start to look greener and fresher. That is the beginning of hope that this year will be the one. The Society is doing its upmost to see if we can hold our shows. Safety is the main concern but, if at all possible, we will be able to meet up somehow and ‘bench’ our plants. Remember to set up a standing order, if you have not already done so, to ensure you do not forget to renew your membership due on the 1st of Jan. Anyone needing help with this can ask the Treasurer how to do this - e-mail on

Wishing you all a HAPPY CHRISTMAS

Lesley Key


November 2020

All Things Auricula - November 2020.

It is November already and time to get my Auriculas into the greenhouse. I take a while to do this as I inspect every pot, clean it, inspect it for slugs and snails - though some always get through - and remove any rubbish in the pot. So far it is nine slugs, four snails and three caterpillars!

Following on from last month’s topic, I have had a good response to my request for suggestions on a ‘mix’ for prize winning auriculas - below are three responses.

Firstly, from a top prize winner in Section 1 (grey/ green edge and selfs), "There is no definitive growing medium for auriculas.  Let us be pragmatic, all growers have a mix which they believe to be the ultimate.  Auriculas will grow in a variety of composts, but we need a mix in which they will not just grow, but flourish.  A multipurpose compost does exactly what it says.  It suits most things but is not species specific; hence we need to adapt to suit auriculas.  My mantra - keep it simple.  I have had success with this mixture: one third peat based multipurpose compost, one third John Innes Number 3, one third alpine sharp grit.  I have found that this blend produces a good open free draining mix that is also moisture retentive with good initial nutrients.  A 3.5" pot with a mature auricula will exhaust the nutrients available via uptake and leaching in less than 12 months so a supplementary feeding programme will have to be implemented."

Then, a top Doubles exhibitor, “For many years we used simple 1:1:1 mix of John Innes 2, sharp grit and multipurpose peat based compost with no other additives. We did sometimes add a little 'slow release' fertilizer (high potash) - beware of high nitrogen fertiliser, it makes nice leaves but poor flowers. The most important thing in growing any plant in a pot is watering, something you learn with experience”.

This last one is from a top Alpine exhibitor, “1 gallon peat based multipurpose compost, 3.5 gallons mole hill soil, 2 gallons peat, ½ gallon of cow manure (at least ten-year-old), 4 gallons grit, 1 gall. perlite, 3oz Epsom salts, 3oz lime, 6oz sea gold (seaweed), 2.5-inch plant pot of charcoal, 12oz of John Innes base (fertiliser). All mixed in a cement mixer”.

As you can see there is no ‘ONE MIX FITS ALL’ and every exhibitor has their own idea as to what suits their plants and geographical location. It is interesting, however, that all the replies I received refer to peat based multipurpose compost. I would be interested in hearing from any grower/exhibitor who has had success with the new peat free mixes. I know that if you do not like to use chemicals to feed your plants (the most common feed seems to be half strength tomato fertilizer) then using liquid seaweed is a good alternative but an alternative for peat seems to be a bit more complicated. Any solutions out there? Let me know at

Now my plants are in the greenhouse, they will not be watered much, if at all, over the winter to stop them rotting in cold damp conditions and the greenhouse door is kept open to allow through ventilation.

I would imagine a lot of members will be asking for seeds from the seed exchange when it opens, probably in December. When your order arrives, the most popular way of keeping them until the sowing season in February is in "the fridge". Place all the seed packets in an old jar jar with a tight lid, the salad compartment is ideal. Do any of you have any other tips to get maximum germination? Let me know at

Lesley Key


October 2020

All Things Auricula - October 2020.

I hope you have all received your Yearbook and are busy planning the next season. Fingers crossed, we will have shows to attend, though they may be ‘socially distanced’ and the judges will have to form a two metre ‘huddle’ to discuss the results!

I have finished planting the seeds I obtained from my own crosses and am awaiting them appearing above the compost. I have followed the advice from an experience grower - sow them in small seed trays filled with a peat-based compost. I watered this and then covered it with a layer of sand. After scattering the seeds, I gave another thin covering of sand to anchor the seedlings when they germinate. I was told it is best to cover the trays with a pane of glass or clear Perspex to stop them drying out. Apparently, they do not mind the cold although, during a hard frost, I will give them an extra cover of greenhouse fleece just in case. The seedlings will remain small over winter but usually develop true leaves for pricking out in February and grow away fast from there, with a good prospect of them flowering the following year.

In my September newsletter I was moaning about my plants being attacked by aphids and one of our members with over forty years experience sent me the following which I think hits the nail on the head.

"Root aphid has been a problem for as long as I can remember, it is always bad in a warm dry season like the currant one. At one time I used Chlorpyrphos, it did a superb job but is no longer available. All you can do now is to try to keep plants clean and ‘not too dry’ as they seem to not like constant damp compost, though a problem with root rot may follow! When you find a plant with root aphid remove all old compost and gently wash the roots in water containing a few spots of washing up liquid, swill in clean cold water, allow to dry and then repot with fresh compost. Then, and this is most important, put all your old compost into a polythene bag and put it in your waste bin. These aphids also like lettuce plants and a number of common garden weeds so keep your place clean. Also carefully examine any gifts and purchases from Plant Sales with great care, you are not the only grower with root aphid!"

Wise words and again good hygiene seems to be the answer to a problem.

Now the weather is becoming colder and days are shortening my thoughts are with winter preparation – when to bring the plants back into the greenhouse? I usually start at the end of October – criky, that’s this month, time flies! Time to disinfect the benches, clean the glass and get rid of all the junk I have stored in it as it could be harbouring pests and diseases.

Some members have asked about what is the best ‘mix’ for compost and I thought it would be a good topic for next month’s newsletter. It is a difficult question to answer as a lot depends on where you live. I live at sea level next to the North Sea but some members live high in the Pennines with a lot more cold and frost. I listened to a very interesting talk, at the Scottish Auricula Society AGM one year, given by a Plant Nursery owner and he stated he could not use any soil based compost (John Innes) in his ‘mix’ as it was too cold and damp in the Perth area of Scotland. His ‘mix’ would be too light for my needs and I still think using a ratio of 1:1:1 John Innes 2, multi purpose compost and alpine grit is a good base to start. Do any of you have any observations on any other ingredients that you have found helpful? E-mail me on with any ‘recipes’ you have found to be a success and I will include them in the newsletter for members to try.

Lesley Key


September 2020

All Things Auricula - September 2020.

I am writing this second newsletter with a heavy heart - as you will see the AGM has been cancelled. This is always a great chance to catch up with friends and to swap stories as to how our plants are doing (or in my case not doing!). However, the safety of our members is paramount so we have had no choice but to cancel, so it means we will not meet up with many friends until the next show.

With not going away on holiday this year I did not turf my auriculas out of the greenhouse into the shady spot that is their usual summer residence. What a mistake - Red Spider Mite invaded my plants, however a quick e-mail to an experienced grower in Harrogate resulted in a very speedy reply as to how to fight this awful bug.

I had kept the plants in a hot dry atmosphere, the ideal conditions for the little critters! I sprayed them with an oily deterrent and then put them outside and kept the surrounding area damp and cool. I seem to have been successful so far and have learnt a valuable lesson – do not mollycoddle auriculas. I will have to be very vigilant as they will be back!

Once the weather turned a bit cooler, I have repotted; the Growing Guide on this web site is ideal, for novice and experienced growers alike. If you follow it you will not go far wrong.

Once again, I have found root aphis! Having spoken to several members it has been very prevalent this year and I wonder if the hot dry weather in early ‘lock down’ time has provided the ideal conditions for it to thrive. I would love to hear from anyone as to how they deal with them as I feel I am fighting a constant battle. I have renamed my greenhouse the 4* bug hotel.

The one thing I am strict with is hygiene for my scissors. I have a small pot of white spirit (or methylated spirit) on the bench and I plunge the blades EVERY time I use them. This stops any infection spreading around the plants. I also dust the carrot end (when shortened) with ground charcoal to stop any disease. The plants are now back outside and will remain there until October.

This year I have tried to produce seed, from crosses, of my grey and green edged plants as well as my selfs.

As I could not show, I crossed any suitable plant in flower and have managed to get sixteen packets of seeds. They vary from one or two seeds to about fifteen, so I will plant in seed trays in September and, fingers crossed, I might get some plants.

Once again, I have asked an experienced grower what to do and have received some very solid advice. Most members are very willing to pass on their experience (this is why I call us the ‘Friendly Flower Society’) so if you have a query, I can pass it on to a member who can help I will not pass on your e-mail address as the Society follows a strict data protection protocol so you will receive an answer back though my address.

In the next few years it will be very interesting as to how many new varieties are named Lockdown Blue/Lockdown Miracle etc.

The next item on our calendar is the Yearbook – this year without any show results but, having spoken to our Editor, it is full of interesting articles on all things Auricula and Primula so look out for it early October. Members, some of whom are new and some who have never thought about taking to print have risen to this year’s challenges and made a book that is worthy of any year.

Lesley Key


August 2020

All Things Auricula. This is the first of my newsletters to our new, and not so new members, and I hope it gives you a few tips as to what to do with your plants on a month to month basis. I would like to hear from any members with their queries and I can be contacted on

I have only been showing these fascinating plants for twelve years, so I am not an expert, and this column is intended as a lighthearted look at the pleasures and pitfalls encountered throughout the year. If you have a query drop me a line and I will try to answer it through this column – if I cannot then I will know of experienced members who I can call on for a solution!

This year has been the most challenging for all of us and it was a great disappointment that we could not meet any of our new members, in person, at the shows. Hopefully, next year we will see many of you and you will be able to add to your collections through our plant sales. These are held at all our shows, and the AGM, where it is a chance for our seasoned exhibitors and growers to sell their surplus plants, often not available commercially, at very reasonable prices. So you can acquire some first rate specimens and also help the Society with its finances. A win win situation that has been a great loss this year.

This year also has seen changes in my schedule of re-potting due to the closure of the specialist Nursery where I obtain my good quality John Innes 2. I have always re-potted straight after the shows (third week in May) however I have just now been able to buy the fresh compost and grit needed for this job. I will start this week (first week in August), the time favored by a number of seasoned exhibitors. I will report on my progress next month.

You will see on this website a cultivation page giving details of how and when to re-pot and a guide to what compost to use. I still refer to it as it has many good tips and advice. The most important thing to remember when re-potting is USE CLEAN POTS! A good soak in Jeyes fluid, or similar, will stop any bugs or disease re infecting your plants!

I hope over the coming months to hear from you with your questions, and I am sure some of you will have solutions to the problems encountered in growing Auriculas. Let us know and we will share them with others.

As I am the Societies’ Archivist, I can also help anyone interested in the history of the Society and members can borrow material, either in hard copy form or electronically. Some of the early Year Books make fascinating reading and are all stored in a form that can be sent to your computer. Remember and if you would prefer to receive this newsletter via e-mail send me your name and your e-mail and I can send it direct every month.

I look forward to receiving your questions and comments.

Keep safe, keep growing Auriculas.

Lesley Key

Society Archivist

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