James Smallwood: Auriculas

A mini Florists’ Feast awaited Grayshott Gardeners members when James Smallwood, accompanied by his wife Nicola, brought along part of his collection of Auriculas to show and sell at the May lecture evening. James is an excellent speaker and his enthusiasm for these attractive and interesting colourful plants was obvious.

At Chelsea with Alan Titmarsh

Originally found in the Alps and Dolomites, Auriculas featured in this country as early as the 1700s when growers of these plants gathered at so-called Florists’ Feasts, contests held in public houses and halls all over England, to show off their skills in breeding new varieties. The traditional prize was a copper kettle.

The wide-ranging palette of colours and markings is partly due to the combination of acid and lime-loving ancestry, and partly to a peculiarity unique to Auriculas: the icing-sugar like covering on leaves and/or petals called farine. When this forms a tight circle in the centre, it is called a paste. It remains a great mystery as to what purpose the farine serves.

James had the privilege of working together with grower Bill Lockyer, a multiple gold medal winner at Chelsea, a tradition his son Simon continued last year by winning another Gold Medal.

James told us where to buy Auriculas, the best way to grow, look after, propagate and display them, and also explained the classification of the more than 5000 different varieties illustrated by a clear and simple slide. He answered questions from the audience and invited members to come and have a close-up look at the plants he had on display.

The stunning photographs accompanying this post were provided by James, who has also compiled a list with useful information here.