Auricula Theater at the New York Botanical Garden

April 9, 2010

Auricula Theater, Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

Auricula Theater, Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

For the fourth year in a row, The New York Botanical Garden will unveil an auricula theater amid the herbs and flowers of the Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden.  The charming traditional display of magnificent auricula primroses returns from April 16 through May 9.  Designed by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury (Lady Salisbury) the renowned horticulturist who restored her legendary garden at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, England in the spirit of its 17th century design, the dramatic display of auricula primroses will delight and inspire garden visitors of all ages.

An auricula theater is an arrangement of tiered staging used to showcase these rare and choice primroses when they are in flower.  Auricula primroses, velvety flowers in numerous, stunning, even startling color combinations and patterns, derive from two species native to the mountains of Europe.  The combination of Primula auricula, a delicate alpine species with yellow flowers, and Primula hirsute with red and blue flowers has produced a kaleidoscope of amazing and highly collectible cultivars.

The tradition of building auricula theaters began in France and Belgium, perhaps as early as the 17th century.  The earliest versions built to protect the exquisite flowers from rain and wind, ranged from shallow, open-fronted boxes with simple shelves to more elaborate forms ornamented with ormolu, an alloy resembling gold in appearance.

Auricula Theater, Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

Auricula Theater, Original Design by Lady Salisbury Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

The practice of building auricula was raised to an art form in 19th century England where many estates with fine gardens included an auricula theater, the most elaborate of which evoked fine stages with faux- painted curtains and proscenium arches adding to the drama.  At the same time the cultivation and display of auricula primroses became popular among coal miners in England and Wales who took delight in the beautiful flowers and stages.

Dozens of auricula primroses grown by seed and division by the horticulturists in the Botanical Garden’s Nolen Greenhouses For Living Collections will be showcased in this beautiful and engaging theater designed by Lady Salisbury.  Interpretive panels will introduce Garden visitors to the history of auricula primrose cultivation and display.

The Auricula Theater was fabricated by Christianson Lee Studios.

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