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AURICULA MONTHLY



Welcome to the Auricula Monthly Newsletters


This page is intended primarily for 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 most welcome.


Further information may also be found at Growing Guide.




September 2021

All Things Auricula - September 2021.


I must start this Newsletter by telling you of the informal mentoring scheme we operate in the Society. It gives you a chance to engage with one of our more experienced members to ask questions/opinions/ and have help with suggestions on pests/diseases/compost/growing conditions/and general encouragement. It is informal but it can be very helpful for novices and more experienced members to share tips and experiences. If you are interested I can, with your and their permission, put you in touch. Just e-mail me on archivist@auriculas.org.uk Please note my new e-mail address. I will try to find someone within your area, however, if that is impossible you may have to use e-mail or phone calls to make contact.


The great dying plant mystery

The mystery is what is going on with my husband’s auriculas? I have included a photo below of some of them and as you can see, they are either dead or dying! I have been asking around the experienced members as to what this can be and how it can be resolved. My plants have not been infected and they were in the same greenhouse, before repotting, and going into their summer outside quarters, so it is not a pest or infectious disease. I have interrogated him as to what he has done with them, and this is what he has said – in late autumn he repotted (equal parts John Innes 2/multipurpose/grit) and included for the first time some Epsom salts. He watered them in using a very small amount of Jeyes fluid in the watering can. They soon went into winter hibernation and when they started to come out of the dark months something was not right. The leaves were growing flat across the pot and the flower stalks were very exposed growing like daisies in a lawn. The stalks and flowers were very small and some looked deformed. The leaves then started to go yellow and turn ‘soggy’ and the plants collapsed and turned to mush. Repotting at the end of May (using equal parts John Innes/multipurpose/grit) did not stop the decline and they have slowly died until very few are left. Apart from a feed of weak strength tomato fertiliser in March and keeping them on the dry side they have looked as if they have been ‘overwatered’! If any of you have seen anything similar and have any conclusions, please let me know at archivist@auriculas.org.uk, as it looks as if he will lose all his plants. I can see he will be first in the queue at the plant sale at the AGM!


Speaking of the AGM, it is at a new venue this year and a new date – 16th of October 2021 at the Riverside Farm, York. The Committee held their recent meeting at this venue to see if it would be suitable – it is roomy, well ventilated and can accommodate a good number of members. It is on the first floor but has stair lift access if required. As it is also a restaurant, meals can be taken during the break in proceedings. We all look forward to a bumper event this year!

Shipman

Hubby’s plants;


Lesley Key,
Archivist and Publications
NAPS.


archivist@auriculas.org.uk

August 2021

All Things Auricula - August 2021.


It is now a year since I started writing this Newsletter – it only seems like a few months ago that I was reporting on August repotting and red spider mite. This year I repotted in early June and then put my plants out into their summer quarters. I have not been infected by the dreaded mite and all looks well. As I reported in an earlier Newsletter, I used some peat free compost in my mix, and it seems to be working well. I watched a programme on TV about peat free and the presenter uses topsoil and composted bark to retain some moisture. I have noticed when using only general-purpose peat free compost, for annuals and young plants from the garden, that water goes straight through the pot and out the drainage holes with lightning speed. Adding a bit of topsoil and composted bark seems to be the solution and gives the plant the chance to absorb the water before it disappears. Whether you need to use it in an auricula mix is debatable, as John Innes has peat in the mix, but soon that will be missing. All very confusing but I will persevere and report on my progress. I have managed to source the wool and bracken peat free mix from a garden centre in Yorkshire – it does not seem to have come any further north yet! It is like all the peat free mixes I have tried in that it is courser and has some large ‘bits’ in it than traditional mixes.


The Society is holding its first committee meeting in nearly two years next week, and we are all eager to get back to ‘normal’ and arrange this year’s AGM and next year’s shows. The Northeast branch is also resuming its meetings at Newbottle WMC on the first Tuesday of the month. It starts at 7.00pm and all members are welcome. If you would like more information on this you can contact the Northeast Secretary, Kate Gwillym on editor@auriculas.org.uk


My Auricula Theatre is now empty of plants as they are resting so I have used the space for a display of pansies and sedums. Sempervivums (house leeks) are also an ideal maintenance free plant for this spot. They do not require any attention when I have my summer holidays – I think I can remember what a summer holiday is! If any of my Auriculas put up an autumn truss, I will display them this year. Usually, I remove the stalk so as not to detract from the spring truss forming, however, I would like to enjoy some auricula colour this year. This will impact on plants available to show but this year it is worth the sacrifice to enjoy my plants.


As I had very few plants flowering this year, I have not been able to do any crosses for seed. My attempts at finding a new and exciting plant have been, so far, a complete failure. None of last years seed germinated so I am back to square one. When you see the number of seedlings entered in the photographic competition it is so encouraging that some of our members are working so hard to breed new varieties. It takes patience and time and can be very frustrating but to see some of the results can be very, very rewarding.


Having spent some time looking at the winners of the photographic competition and marvelling at the ‘Peoples choice winner’ I thought I would ask Chris what his summer routine was – here is his answer:
"I do away with the greenhouse straight after the last show.  I remove all flowers, just leaving a short stem.  The plants then go outside, open to the elements, but not in a south facing aspect.  Keep an eye on the compost.  These small pots can dry out very quickly, but only water once they have dried out.  Don't water if not required.  They seem to prefer the rain.  They get a couple of feeds of a tomato fertiliser.  If you find you need to have to spray for pests (I have had a touch of trouble with greenfly) don't spray midday, spray early morning or preferably late evening.  You don't want the spray on the leaves at the hottest part of the day.  I just leave the plants to their own devices.  I don't remove any leaves and then I repot 1st August.  The plants remain outside and do not go back into the greenhouse until November time.  Just keep it simple. For a healthy truss the following year, the plants have to be grown well the previous summer."


Well simply good old fashioned plant husbandry! No expensive equipment or fancy mixes and something we all can aspire to. I can but dream! As my plants were stressed with red spider mite last summer it is now obvious why I got such poor flowers this year. Would anyone like to share their autumn regime with us? E-mail me on archivist@auriculas.org.uk and I will print it next month.


Lesley Key,
Archivist and Publications
NAPS.

July 2021

All Things Auricula - July 2021.


Over half the year has now gone and my garden is in ‘full bloom’ if a little crowded. My mantra of ‘there is always room for another plant’ can be a bit overwhelming at times!


The results of our photograph competition are now on the web site for you all to see. Along with my husband Len we judged the novice section. It was wonderful to see so many entries and it is so encouraging for the future. It was a lovely afternoon discussing the merits of the entries and we have detailed notes on all the plants. If you would like our critique of your plant e-mail us on naps1873@gmail.com. All the judges will give you constructive advice and a lot of encouragement, if you would like - let me know and I will pass on your request.


I wrote an article for the yearbook a few years ago and I have reproduced it below – it is one of the dilemmas for new exhibitors (me included) - and I thought it might be useful to our new members to see ‘you are not alone’!


The Snip

I must make it clear, before I go any further with this article I am not a judge but a judges ‘runner’. That is, I have had the opportunity, over the last few years, to follow judges as they go around the benches, on the day of the show, and record the results. This has given me the opportunity to listen to a variety of judges, and listen to their observations and comments.

After a number of years I have come to one conclusion – judges vary in their interpretation of the perfect auricula, however, they seem to have a universal opinion on REMOVAL OF PIPS. That is to say none like the practise of leaving the maximum numbers of pips on a plant to the detriment of quality. Time and time again I have heard--- ‘that would be a cracking plant if that horrible pip had been removed’ or ‘it would have got a card if those two small pips had been removed’ or ‘why have those fading pips not been removed’.

I have to say these comments have been made about my plants - on a number of occasions I have had to stand, with a poker face, wishing I could turn the clock back an hour for me to find my scissors!

Obviously the plantsmen/women at the top of the game have solved this conundrum, but for the likes of us lesser mortals it is a lesson we do not seem to learn very quickly.

The general opinion seems to be an alpine with five well balanced pips is a far better plant than a one with eight or nine mismatched ones. Likewise a show with three or four fully expanded even pips is better than a mass of odd shaped and half expanded buds.

I have spoken to a few of the judges I have had the privilege to follow and they do not mind me putting these observations in print. They all recognise that folk coming up from the novice classes have a challenging time, trying to compete against seasoned exhibitors.

This reluctance to remove misshapen, or fading pips, is the most common of faults and I know from experience how hard it is to take a pair of scissors to a plant you have nurtured for a whole year. I think the motto ‘be brave’ would be a good one to follow – get the scissors out and SNIP. Take a look at other plants on the bench and all judges are very willing to point out your plants failings after the judging is over. Their comments are always constructive and it is an ideal opportunity to find out how you can improve your chances of a card next year.


Since I wrote the article I have judged for the first time and found it a very enjoyable experience.


My plants are now in their summer quarters of shade and cool outside space. It has been very dry this last month so they have needed water to keep them going. I try to water when it is cooler and slightly overcast. My green house has been cleaned and disinfected and will be used for tomatoes, until October, when the auriculas take up residence for the winter. Until then I check the plants for slugs and snails on a regular basis as they seem to multiply in the blink of an eye! My neighbours are used to hearing me out in the garden, as it is getting dark, muttering as I find another of the little devils munching away!


Lesley Key,
Archivist and Publications
NAPS.

June 2021

All Things Auricula - June 2021.


It is now nearly half way through the year and things are beginning to get back to a more relaxed way of living.

I have spent my days over the last few weeks repotting my plants and getting them into their summer lodgings. I had very few trusses this year so I have repotted down a pot size in a mix of 1/3 John Innes 2- 1/3 grit – 1/6 peat free multipurpose – 1/6 standard multipurpose. Next year I will use a 1/3 peat free if the plants are adapting to less peat. I would have liked to use a peat free compost championed by the RHS, but was not able to obtain it in the North East.

When you should repot has been open to debate for as long as the Society has been in existence – the May Miscellany article on the website makes interesting reading. It is an article taken from the 1946 Society Yearbook and now in 2021 we are still debating when is the right time!

When the plants have settled in their new compost I put them outside, on shelving, in a shady part of the garden for the summer. I did not put them outside last year and they got an infestation of red spider mite. These pests like hot dry conditions so May, being cold and wet, should have kept them at bay! The plants will be brought back into the greenhouse in October. I will watch that they do not get waterlogged over the hot summer months (note the optimism I display as to the type of weather we will have in the North!). You can kill an auricula by too much water in hot weather - it is often called ‘stewing the roots off’ as that is exactly what happens!

As you are reading this Newsletter our Webmaster will be putting the finishing touches to the Photo Competition as entries closed on the 29th of May. This is the first time the Society has attempted to do anything like this and a great big ‘Thank you’ should be directed to our Webmaster as it takes a lot of work and effort. As soon as he has the pages ready the judging will commence, and the winners announced with the photos going into the Yearbook.

Again this month we have had an influx of new members and it is so encouraging to see new people with a love of all things Auricula joining us. As I mentioned last month most seem to be constructing Theatres and I have been sent some wonderful photographs of their efforts to put in the Archive.

One very helpful member has sent me a list of plants he finds adapt to this method of growing and will happily produce a good truss of flowers. Here are some of his recommendations:-

  • Ancient Society (GCA)
  • Blythe Spirit (GCA)
  • Eden Blue Star (Border)
  • Eden Sunrise (Border)
  • Curry Blend (Border)
  • Murray Lakes (LCA)
  • Lincoln Bullion (Double)
  • Firsby (Double)
  • Nymph (Double)
  • Sir John (GCA)

Can I add that I find Sirius (GCA), Golden Wedding (GCA), Golden Boy (GCA) and Averil (or Avril) Hunter (LCA) good plants for growing outside all year round.

If any of you have any other ideas, please e-mail me on naps1873@gmail.com and I will include them in my next letter.


It was with great sadness to learn of the death of Dr Alison Goldie, Secretary of the Scottish Auricula Society, who made everyone so welcome at the Society’ Shows. I have spent an afternoon looking at the Scottish Yearbooks and remembering happy times – a lovely lady she will be greatly missed.


Lesley Key,
Archivist and Publications
NAPS.

May 2021

All Things Auricula - May 2021.


Today the 1st of May should have been our Auricula show at Cheadle. It is one of the most enjoyable events we hold and is a time to catch up with friends and find out what plants are winning and what new seedlings are looking promising for the future. Alan our webmaster has looked back on the winning Alpines in the Northern shows over the last five years shows and it makes interesting reading. These in order are the top plants:

  1. Stell South
  2. = Vera; Dragons Hoard
  3. Sophie
  4. Blyth Spirit
  5. First Lady
  6. Bilbo Baggins
  7. Jeff Scrutton
  8. Highland Park
  9. Ian Greville


Stella South is a light centred alpine and, along with its sister plant Stella North, is named after a power station. They were on the north/south banks of the River Tyne near Newcastle.


I wrote last year about my efforts to produce new plants from seeds – well it has been a disaster! I have not had one germinate so it is ‘back to the drawing board ’and I am attempting it again, this year, but will delay sowing them until February.


If I have not crossed a plant for seed, as soon as the flower is finished I cut it off near the top of the stalk. If you cut the stalk off at the bottom it can allow rot to get into the body of the plant. When the stalk has dried and withered it can then be removed.


Your plants should be flowering, and coming to their peak, so if you have not shown, but would like to next year, have a practise at dressing and staking, take a photograph and send it to me at naps1873@gmail.com and I will ask our experts to give you any tips and advice. You could also enter the photo competition on our website!


We have had a welcome influx of new members this year as gardening has become more popular in this time of lockdown. A number of our new members are very interested in growing plants in the traditional Auricula Theatre, and it is lovely to see this way of displaying plants being revived. The first mention I can find of displaying Auriculas ‘Theatrically’ is in the works of John Evelyn in the 1650’s. As some growers draped canvas curtains on their shelving, to close if the sun got too strong, they became known as ‘Theatres’. I have been asked what plants are good ‘growers’ in Theatres and I would love some suggestions from those who use Theatres as their main site. E-mail me on naps1873@gmail.com with any plant name you have. Obviously, all the borders would be good starter plants as they can be left outside, all year round, and many have the added bonus of being fragrant. Siting of a Theatre, being free standing or raised, either attached to a wall or fence is important. A north or east facing situation is ideal, south should be avoided, as too much sun will kill the plants. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails, as they are good climbers, and will hide behind pots during the day and come out at night to feast. My Theatre is free standing and I put it in my front garden as soon as I have a plant in flower (usually the end of March) and change the display until I have no plants left (usually the end of May). It has generated a lot of local interest and has even appeared on social media!


It was so sad to see the Scottish Auricula and Primula Society has folded after six years. I know they worked so hard and their show at Auchterarder, Perthshire was a joy to attend. The Society will be sadly missed. Being the last show of the year it was ideal, as a visit to Scotland and a mini holiday rolled into a catch up with Scottish enthusiasts.


Hope you are all sending our webmaster photographs for the show competition! You will get a chance to cast your vote for a ‘people’s choice’ as well as the plants being appraised by a panel of our judges. I find sending a photograph less daunting than putting a plant ‘on the bench’ though when I went to my first show, I was greeted by a lovely lady who showed me what to do, and what class to enter. She was waiting for me, when judging finished, to congratulate me on my Ancient Society getting a card!

Lesley Key,
Archivist.
naps1873@gmail.com

April 2021

All Things Auricula - April 2021.


It does not seem two minutes ago we were enjoying our Christmas lunch and now it is April, the daffodils are blooming, and we are celebrating Easter in the next few days.


This is a busy time in the Auricula calendar – your plants should be in active growth and showing signs of trusses emerging from the depth of the leaves. The early flowering plants will have trusses, and some may need staking. I use barbeque skewers cut to the appropriate length. It is worth remembering, when exhibiting, the stake must not be higher than the branching of the pedicels, and the tie must be neat and tidy.


This year in the North East we have had a good number of sunny days, so the greenhouse has had net shading draped over the roof and sides. The weather has been cold but with bright sunlight shade is essential. I have fed my plants (tomato fertilizer at ¼ strength) and am awaiting some sign that I will have something to enter in the photographic competition.


This is new to the Society but without shows we want to enjoy and share our plants with members. The Yearbook should be awash with colour as all the winners will be featured in it. All members will have received by e-mail the rules and tips on how to enter so ‘have a go!’


I am watching out for red spider mite returning by looking at the underside of leaves and, if spotted, removing them with a cotton bud soaked in Methylated spirits.


I have been talking to one of our members who has had an unusual occurrence in his greenhouse. He used a mixture of black plastic square and brown plastic round pots for his collection. He has had an attack of the dreaded vine weevil – however they have only targeted the plants in the black square pots! Has anyone had the same happen to them? If you have let me know at naps1873@gmail.com. I did not know vine weevil were so fussy!


We have had a welcome number of new members so if this is your first Newsletter ‘hello’ and let me know if you want any topic covered – it is your newsletter and is written in the hope it helps you enjoy these fascinating plants. One member has asked for suggestions on a good ‘starter’ selection of plants to help them find out how to grow them and see them at their best. Any suggestions? E-mail me on naps1873@gmail.com and I will include them next month. If we get a list of a good variety it will also be included in the website and amended periodically when new and dependable plants emerge.


I have also had members asking where to buy auricula plants as they are reporting some of the commercial nurseries have sold out the most sought after varieties. It seems lockdown has ignited our love of gardens and people up and down the country are building theatres and cold frames but cannot get plants. Hopefully, the AGM plant sale will be full of the surplus plants we have produced over the last year. How we will have a socially distanced plant sale will be interesting – each member getting five minutes to fill a basket could be good fun! Who will man the stopwatch? Will we have a referee? Joking apart I hope we will have a mega sale and look forward to shows in 2022.


I hope you are all reading the Monthly Miscellany page on our website. Alan, our webmaster, is using the old Yearbooks to find out facts about our founding members and the changing nature of Auricula growing. I have often spent an afternoon browsing old Yearbooks, in the lockdown, and have found some fascinating things. One suggestion, to make money, was to have sticks of rock produced with NAPS printed through them and sell them on the plant sale stand. I do not think the idea got beyond the planning stage, thank goodness! In the 1946 Yearbook I found the following; "During the afternoon of show day, there will be a sale of plants and offsets given by members, the proceeds of such sale going to augment the Society’s funds. But that is not the immediate object of the sale, the motive underlying the project is to give members, particularly new ones, an opportunity to acquire varieties they have hitherto never possessed and to get more plants in circulation. The two wars have undoubtedly taken a heavy toll of Auriculas, particularly of show varieties, and there is yet barely sufficient to go round; hence the effort now being made to remedy this to some extent." Most had turned to providing food crops during the wars and auriculas had been rather neglected, however the plant sales seem to have been successful and the next few decades saw a surge in popularity. Again this lockdown seems to have awakened gardening interest – long may it continue and the humble auricula can be at the forefront!

Lesley Key,
Archivist.
naps1873@gmail.com

March 2021

All Things Auricula - March 2021.

February was definitely a month in two halves! One minute my plants were half frozen with a blanket of deep snow and the next it was practically tropical with a 12 degree rise in the mercury! On my first trip down the garden to visit my plants in the greenhouse, when the snow had departed, I spotted a single flower on a gold laced polyanthus growing happily outside in the flower border – who says our plants are not hardy creatures!


With March we will see growth and the prospect of trusses beginning to show and push up from the depths of the foliage. I give a couple of weak feeds this month (1/4 strength), of either tomato fertiliser or liquid seaweed, to give the plants the strength to grow a sturdy framework. If too much feeding takes place the plants will concentrate on foliage growth and you will end up with a ‘cabbage’ and few flowers! The watering is increased if the weather does not turn back to being icy and dull. Light levels are variable at this time of year and days of dark overcast skies are often the norm, then by the end of the month shading is needed on the greenhouse as it becomes too bright!


I asked in a previous newsletter if anyone has used a peat free mix of compost and how did the plants fare. I have had no response, so I am undecided if no one has tried it, or it has not been a success. One member has mentioned he is going to try the mix of wool and bracken that is peat free and I will report on his progress. I will try it as well, if I can source a bag before I repot. I know some members have had difficulty getting supplies of their usual compost this year and I would love to hear if any unusual alternatives have been used. E-mail on naps1873@gmail.com with your results -success or otherwise. You never know, someone might find, by accident, the solution to how we deal with the withdrawing of peat based compost in the next few years!


It is a good time to start deciding which plants you would like to cross and see how last year’s crosses are faring. The first year any of your crosses flower be brutal with your decisions! If it is poor this year it will be poor next year so do not fill up your greenhouse/cold frame with ‘maybe’s’ -you will soon run out of space.


At the end of March our first show of the season should have been taking place, however we will have to wait another year to meet our friends and view the plants on the bench. It is always a wonderful sight to see – benches full of colour and all the different forms these enchanting plants throw out – a great miss. Next year we will have a lot to catch up with, but it will be worth it knowing that we did all we could to keep members safe. The committee had already decided not to put on a display at Harrogate Spring flower show this year, as our stand would have been outside, and this has proved fortuitous, as the show has been moved to the end of May. Not many members still have flowering plants nearing June – most have repotted! The same has happened to Chelsea Flower show - it has been moved to autumn so there will not be an auricula in sight!


Keep looking at the website, a new Photographic Competition has just been launched by the committee to share with you the seasons display of plants. All members are invited to enter, a good chance for you to show your own plants and hopefully get some feedback.


Lesley Key

Archivist

All Things Auricula - March 2021.

February was definitely a month in two halves! One minute my plants were half frozen with a blanket of deep snow and the next it was practically tropical with a 12 degree rise in the mercury! On my first trip down the garden to visit my plants in the greenhouse, when the snow had departed, I spotted a single flower on a gold laced polyanthus growing happily outside in the flower border – who says our plants are not hardy creatures!


With March we will see growth and the prospect of trusses beginning to show and push up from the depths of the foliage. I give a couple of weak feeds this month (1/4 strength), of either tomato fertiliser or liquid seaweed, to give the plants the strength to grow a sturdy framework. If too much feeding takes place the plants will concentrate on foliage growth and you will end up with a ‘cabbage’ and few flowers! The watering is increased if the weather does not turn back to being icy and dull. Light levels are variable at this time of year and days of dark overcast skies are often the norm, then by the end of the month shading is needed on the greenhouse as it becomes too bright!


I asked in a previous newsletter if anyone has used a peat free mix of compost and how did the plants fare. I have had no response, so I am undecided if no one has tried it, or it has not been a success. One member has mentioned he is going to try the mix of wool and bracken that is peat free and I will report on his progress. I will try it as well, if I can source a bag before I repot. I know some members have had difficulty getting supplies of their usual compost this year and I would love to hear if any unusual alternatives have been used. E-mail on naps1873@gmail.com with your results -success or otherwise. You never know, someone might find, by accident, the solution to how we deal with the withdrawing of peat based compost in the next few years!


It is a good time to start deciding which plants you would like to cross and see how last year’s crosses are faring. The first year any of your crosses flower be brutal with your decisions! If it is poor this year it will be poor next year so do not fill up your greenhouse/cold frame with ‘maybe’s’ -you will soon run out of space.


At the end of March our first show of the season should have been taking place, however we will have to wait another year to meet our friends and view the plants on the bench. It is always a wonderful sight to see – benches full of colour and all the different forms these enchanting plants throw out – a great miss. Next year we will have a lot to catch up with, but it will be worth it knowing that we did all we could to keep members safe. The committee had already decided not to put on a display at Harrogate Spring flower show this year, as our stand would have been outside, and this has proved fortuitous, as the show has been moved to the end of May. Not many members still have flowering plants nearing June – most have repotted! The same has happened to Chelsea Flower show - it has been moved to autumn so there will not be an auricula in sight!


Keep looking at the website, a new Photographic Competition has just been launched by the committee to share with you the seasons display of plants. All members are invited to enter, a good chance for you to show your own plants and hopefully get some feedback.


Lesley Key

Archivist

February 2021

All Things Auricula - February 2021.


Unfortunately Lesley is unwell at the moment and is unable to do this months newsletter. Hopefully she is recovering, best wishes for a speedy recovery.


As a consequence you are stuck with me, a poor imitation of what you are used to, but I’m trying my best.


February sees the awakening of our plants from their winter rest, well that is the theory, mine have been throwing up pips since last autumn. As growth starts, this will depend upon the weather and of course your location, watering will need to be increased slightly, but do not overwater.


Whilst checking my plants just after our second snow fall, I was treated to water dripping down my neck from a gap in the glazing at the ridge. Another job to do when it warms up a bit, make sure you do not have any plants under such leaks, it could cause rot.


Traditionally many growers top dressing this month. This involves the removal and disposal of the top 1/2’’ (1cm) of compost from each pot. Once removed, inspect the carrot neck and visible roots for rot disease and pests, top off with fresh compost. Viable off-sets can be removed at this time and potted on.


This is also the time I check and replenish stocks of compost materials; insecticides; tomato feed (this will be required next month to give a weak feed); Jeyes fluid etc. In addition I check that I have sufficient greenhouse glass whitewash paint for the coming year and also check the greenhouse shading netting removed and stored away last autumn.


There is still a little time left to sow seed, some seed is still available from the Seed Exchange, but stocks are quickly running out.


Don’t forget to look at the new Archive Miscellany Page updated around the middle of each month. The next page will be a tribute to Ben Simmonite, a founder of our society and a noted Florist of his time.


Alan Clelland
Web Master
auricula1872@gmail.com

January 2021

All Things Auricula - January 2021.


Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year for 2021 and I hope we will all be able to meet soon and see some of our wonderful plants again. The Societies Committee will make every effort to find a way, if possible, to hold shows this year. Our members safety is paramount, but we will try!


Over the Christmas period I have been reflecting on the Societies long history and in 2023 we celebrate 150 years! In this time we have come through two world wars and now we are in our second pandemic. I wondered how our forefathers weathered the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 and I had an enjoyable afternoon reading the Year Books. I found not one mention of the ‘flu’ but plenty on the WEATHER! The Committee seem to have had an intriguing way of beating this perennial problem. If the weather had delayed the plants and pips were refusing to open they sent out a prepaid postcard a week before the intended show date asking if exhibitors wanted the show date moved. If they agreed the show would be put back by a week - this happened in 1917 and again in 1919. This would favour auricula growers. However, primula exhibitors must have had a greater challenge as they did not have a separate show then, so had to exhibit in May. The logistics of this must have been immense with communication by post and few members having their own transport.


Now we move on a hundred years and if any member has any ideas on how we can celebrate our 150th it would be lovely to hear from you, e-mail me on naps1873@gmail.com and I will pass your thoughts on to the Committee. We are hoping to have some sort of Committee meeting (virtual, face to face or by e-mail) in January/February so we can add to the agenda ways to celebrate and look forward to another 150 successful years of raising and showing these fascinating plants.


Look out for the new Seed list appearing on the web site this month and if you have room in your greenhouse for a few seedlings have a go! You might find a new beautifully proportioned Alpine or an exciting new Edge variety! I hope that more members have had time to cross their own plants and are awaiting the time to sow any seeds they have managed to produce. For tips on when and how to sow, click on ‘Our plants’ in the top menu bar on our website and then ‘growing from seed’ in the drop down.


January, I find, is a quiet month for my auriculas – here on the North East coast they are still dormant and need very little water. I only give them a very small drink if they appear ‘dust dry’ and will continue with this until they start to wake up. For me this is usually the first few weeks of February and until then I can only wait and plan.


One of the ways I have been trying to keep fit and not do too much with my plants is to rake up and collect fallen leaves, to make leaf mould to use as a soil conditioner. You can leave them to rot down in a black plastic bag if they are moistened first. It takes about two years, but if you put them behind your greenhouse/shed they are out of the way and when you remember they are there - HEY PRESTO - leaf mould.


I do hope you are all going to join us for another year and find the annual subscription of £10 good value. The new look web site is a lovely way to keep in touch and makes good reading in the cold dark nights of January!


Happy seed sowing,
Lesley Key,
Archivist and Publications

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 – naps1873@gmail.com .


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 naps1873@gmail.com


Wishing you all a HAPPY CHRISTMAS

Lesley Key

Archivist


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 naps1873@gmail.com


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 naps1873@gmail.com


Lesley Key

Archivist

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 compost 'mix' 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 naps1873@gmail.com with any ‘recipes’ you have found to be a success and I will include them in the newsletter for members to try.


Lesley Key

Archivist

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