I potted up my order of auriculas this morning while it was still cool in the greenhouse. I did not strictly speaking need any more auriculas, but not for nothing did Margery Fish's old gardener refer to them as 'them reckless plants'. For years I admired the auricula exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show, and played around growing border auriculas from seed and buying the odd named variety from nurseries, then last year decided to try doing it properly and ordered a dozen from a specialist grower. Buying the plants turned out to be much easier than tracking down a supply of suitable long tom pots, but after a false start with a couple selling vintage reclaimed pots online (critically too small and very badly packed) I succeeded in tracking down a firm still making them at a sensible price, Littlethorpe Pottery in Yorkshire.
A year into the experiment, pots and plants having come through the winter intact, I succumbed to the lure of more plants. At the moment they are having to make do with nine centimetre black plastic, but as some of them were barely filling their seven centimetre square pots I wouldn't want to move them up to the clay pots in one go anyway, even assuming I had any spare, which I haven't. I am using Littlethorpe's five inch pots, which are slightly larger than the ones traditionally used for showing at Chelsea, but easier to manage than the smallest ones, which dry out too quickly in hot weather. For exhibition purposes they are only required to accommodate a single rosette, but I am letting my plants grow on into clumps, partly to get more flowers but mainly because tiny plants in tiny pots are so much harder to look after.
The reckless plants are so demure and so beautiful, who would not want more than a dozen varieties, or rather eleven because I drowned one last summer struggling to keep it watered in hot weather, before the proper pots arrived. I have gone for some doubles in sumptuous rich colours, some named border types and some alpines with white or gold centres. White eyes tend to go with purple or mauve petals and gold with red or tawny ones. They are all beautiful. The Systems Administrator has started to make noises about building me a shelf for them. In the meantime the new acquisitions are on the shelf in the porch, so the postman will get a treat if only he has time to stop and look at them.
Once it got too warm in the greenhouse for pricking out seedlings I turned my attention to the ferns which arrived yesterday. The nursery enclosed a page of growing instructions with them, urging customers to get their plants into the ground as soon as possible to reduce the chances of their roots overheating or drying out, and I thought that in this weather they were absolutely right. I didn't want a collection of ferns hanging about in nine centimetre pots. When I went to the bottom of the back garden with the ones destined for the shady far corner I discovered that the big patch of early, red flowered lungwort and the Ligularia in what should be the bog bed were collapsing with drought. That is worrying.
I am not panicking yet, since we have had dry springs before now followed by grey, soggy summers, the weather generally breaking just at the point the media starts making dire predictions of hosepipe bans. Tendring has never actually had a hosepipe ban, but our water is phenomenally expensive. But the weather might not break, and it is worrying for the garden to be so dry so early in the year. Staggering through a dry July and August is all very well, when there's the prospect of cooler weather in September and maybe some autumn rain, but for the garden to already be so dry with fully five months of spring and summer to go is daunting. I dragged the hose out, being careful not to scythe it across the fritillaries in the lawn, and set it to soak the worst patches while I planted the ferns and the bog primula I got from the same nursery. The bog is no more, alas, as the water table has fallen, but the bed is shady and I will have to see what I can manage with some irrigation, while remembering not to plant any treasures that will be drowned if we have another wet winter and the area goes back to mud soup. I lost several shrubs there the last time it was wet.