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Ornamental feature

Auricula Theatre

Auricula theatre in the 18th century period garden for 'A Garden Within Doors' exhibition

The Auricula Theatre in the 18th century period garden photographed by Jayne Lloyd

So-called ‘auricula theatres’, or stages, were used to display choice flowers just before they blossomed, or were ready to ‘blow’. They were often located close to the house, so that they might be visible from rooms within. There is also evidence that theatres were erected inside the house for display of special plants. Auriculas normally flower from late March until the end of May. Theatres such as this one might then be turned over to tulips for a late May display and, after this, to carnations.

Auriculas are delicate plants with a special powdery quality to their flowers and leaves (called the ‘meal’), which gets marked easily by splashes of water. Housing them on the tiered shelves of the theatre protects them from water spills, rain and excessive sun which damage their delicate surface. They are normally grown in earthenware pots rather than in the ground, which can then be arranged in the tiered display, as seen here.

They were extremely popular in the eighteenth century, part of a group of plants called ‘florists flowers’. These were grown for their decorative qualities, rather than for their usefulness. Eight plants were included in this category: carnation, tulip, anemone, ranunculus, hyacinth, polyanthus, pink and auricula. Collections of these were thought particularly well-suited to small town gardens, where the show-casing of individual plants could be achieved with maximum effect. Auriculas remained popular throughout the nineteenth century. They were often grown competitively, with prize plants entered into shows.

The auricula theatre in the 18th Century Period Garden was designed by The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, for the ‘A Garden Within Doors’ exhibition at the Geffrye Museum.

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