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There comes a time in every anorak’s life, when they feel the need to specialise. I particularly like hardy perennials, especially Hellebores. Don’t forget acers, dahlias and cacti. Or passionflowers. Bulbs should get a mention, lilies above all. Despite my addiction to most things green and growing, I’ve developed an infatuation. Since receiving six tiny specimens as a birthday present, I crave auriculas. This is no ordinary itch; I have lost count of the anonymous plants acquired from nurseries and garden centres which, after an inordinate amount of love and care, have turned out to bear bog standard dull purple blooms. Not good enough; now I want the fancy ones.
Primula auricula “Maggie”
Primula auricula “Maggie”

I flirted with the online retailers but learned my lesson on that score. Some years ago I ordered some Lenten roses advertised as “well grown and sturdy”. After an agonising wait my prizes arrived; they were sad, spindly, bare-rooted things wrapped in newspaper, torn from the soil by a careless hand. I gave a different seller a chance, only to receive my booty as a smashed smear of leaf and stem, plastered around the inside of the plastic packing. This is not a worthy fate for anything that I need, must have, may no longer live happily without.
P. auricula “Prometheus”
P. auricula “Prometheus”

The Internet is wonderful for information which may be subject to many opinions but is rarely so battered as to be useless. A quick truffle at the keyboard found Summerdale Garden Nursery. Off to Cumbria then, a brief hike northwards straight up the M6. Inside the first greenhouse we were greeted by a jewel bright carpet of Persian colour. My pulse was thundering so loudly, I could barely hear Attila’s groan of wan hope. Oh yes Dear, we’re going to be here for a goodly while without access to football scores. Hundreds of plants were mostly in flower, arranged alphabetically so that finding “Slioch” and “Nocturne” was simple. Unfortunately en route to locating the ones I wanted, I was waylaid by others which glowed even more brightly that the pictures on my screen at home. The well informed and affable Primula wrangler knew all of her stock as friends and understood their foibles like family. Other bounty included shed loads of filigreed ferns and healthy unusual perennials.
P. auricula “Sword”
P. auricula “Sword”

After cramming the car boot to full capacity, we wandered around the superb gardens, open for the NGS. The captivating mixture of formal and casual covered one and a half acres. Exquisite hedged rooms were made glorious with an elegant seat or one huge antique pot crowned by a generous stuffing of tulips. Wind baffling high clipped yew made turning every corner a thrill of discovery. Intricate pavements wove amongst a plethora of ponds and the auricula theatre was fabulous. I came away filled with inspiration and an appetite for more. My husband declined further horticulture until he had been fed. We stopped at the tea room on the hill, lunching on delicious local produce unsullied by miles of transport. My Gromit consumed a great deal of cheese, including some Wensleydale. Smashing.

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