Auriculas

Auriculas are among the most treasured of our spring flowers. These tufted, evergreen primulas originally come from the mountains of Europe, where they grow among limestone rocks. The wild species have small, rounded or scalloped leaves, sometimes covered in a creamy meal and heads of circular, five-petalled flowers, often with a white eye.  Hundreds of hybrids have been created by crossing it with closely-related species P. hirsuta. The auricula as we know it was brought into cultivation at the end of the 18th century, grown by ordinary folk as botanical treasures. Auricula shows became popular and formal societies were formed.  Auriculas are generally split into border, alpine, show, double and striped varieties. The border and alpine forms are robust enough for use in the general garden, where they'll grow in moist, but well-drained soil in semi-shade. They hate hot sun and dry soil and will scorch or even die, if becoming seriously droughted. The show varieties are best grown in pots in a cold greenhouse to protect the meal or farina on their leaves and especially the flowers, which is soon washed off by the rain.  When growing them in pots, clay or plastic, use a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes and add more grit or Perlite to further improve drainage. They need to be kept damp, but not wet over winter, gradually increasing the amount of water as they flush with new growth and the flower buds appear. Under glass they're prone to greenfly and also attacks by vine weevil grubs. For more information contact the National Auricula and Primula Society; tel 01530 810522, www.auriculaandprimula.org.uk

Auriculas are among the most treasured of our spring flowers. These tufted, evergreen primulas originally come from the mountains of Europe, where they grow among limestone rocks. The wild species have small, rounded or scalloped leaves, sometimes covered in a creamy meal and heads of circular, five-petalled flowers, often with a white eye. 

Hundreds of hybrids have been created by crossing it with closely-related species P. hirsuta. The auricula as we know it was brought into cultivation at the end of the 18th century, grown by ordinary folk as botanical treasures. Auricula shows became popular and formal societies were formed. 

Auriculas are generally split into border, alpine, show, double and striped varieties. The border and alpine forms are robust enough for use in the general garden, where they'll grow in moist, but well-drained soil in semi-shade. They hate hot sun and dry soil and will scorch or even die, if becoming seriously droughted. The show varieties are best grown in pots in a cold greenhouse to protect the meal or farina on their leaves and especially the flowers, which is soon washed off by the rain. 

When growing them in pots, clay or plastic, use a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes and add more grit or Perlite to further improve drainage. They need to be kept damp, but not wet over winter, gradually increasing the amount of water as they flush with new growth and the flower buds appear. Under glass they're prone to greenfly and also attacks by vine weevil grubs.

For more information contact the National Auricula and Primula Society; tel 01530 810522, www.auriculaandprimula.org.uk

Ornamental crab apples

Of all the spring-flowering trees, crab apple is perhaps the most underappreciated, yet compared to ornamental cherries, which grab the spotlight with their blizzards of blossom, crab apples are more elegant, with a greater range of form and size. Through careful selection and hybridisation, many are ideal as specimen trees for smaller plots or larger patio tubs, such as dwarf varieties ‘Tina’ or ‘Adirondack’. Crab apple is a generic term for a range of species and hybrids in the apple genus Malus, largely based on fruit size and the fact they’re used for ornament, rather than edible fruit. Fruits that are generally 5cm (2in) in diameter or less are classed as crabs. Most are sour, although some like ‘Harry Baker’ have larger fruit which can be used in cookery or, in the case of ‘John Downie’, can be eaten raw. However, it’s in spring when crab apples give their all, with branches wreathed in blossom. Crab apples put up with most soils as long as it’s not too consistently wet or dry, although they’ll tolerate periods of drought once established. Many varieties are also resistant to apple diseases, but you may still need to treat persistent infections. Most don’t need pruning, unless being thinned out or cut back to improve shape. This is best done when flowers have finished in spring. Remove shoots that appear from below ground or the graft point to stop them taking over.

Of all the spring-flowering trees, crab apple is perhaps the most underappreciated, yet compared to ornamental cherries, which grab the spotlight with their blizzards of blossom, crab apples are more elegant, with a greater range of form and size.
Through careful selection and hybridisation, many are ideal as specimen trees for smaller plots
or larger patio tubs, such as dwarf varieties ‘Tina’ or ‘Adirondack’. Crab apple is a generic term for a range of species and hybrids in the apple genus Malus, largely based on fruit size and the fact they’re used for ornament, rather than edible fruit. Fruits that are generally 5cm (2in) in diameter or less are classed as crabs. Most are sour, although some like ‘Harry Baker’ have
larger fruit which can be used in cookery or, in the case of ‘John Downie’, can be eaten raw.
However, it’s in spring when crab apples give their all, with branches wreathed in blossom. Crab apples put up with most soils as long as it’s not too consistently wet or dry, although they’ll tolerate periods of drought once established. Many varieties are also resistant to apple diseases, but you may still need to treat persistent infections. Most don’t need pruning, unless being thinned out or cut back to improve shape. This is best done when flowers have finished in spring. Remove shoots that appear from below ground or the graft point to stop them taking over.