This is the season for admiring auriculas (primula auricula). These tricky to grow Alpine plants demand year-round attention, but one is rewarded by their marvellous flowers. The colours and textures of the blooms suggest Victorian textiles – fustian or velvet dresses. Like many plants grown in England, they are imports, but not brought here by any of the great plant collectors and explorers (David Stuart’s The Plants That Shaped Our Gardens, is a good primer on the collectors of the heroic age). Instead, it is the case that the auricula probably became popular with the arrival of Huguenot weavers who settled in Lancashire. Whatever the origin, the plant was adopted by the hand-loom weavers of that county. They called it ‘Bears’ Ears’, not just because of the shape and texture of the flowers, but also because of the rounded leaves. The hand loom weavers’ cottages, with their characteristic three floors, the top floors featuring building-wide windows to maximise the light falling on the looms, also provided ideal conditions for auricula growing. By the turn of the nineteenth century, auricula shows were popular, as working-class fans of the auricula began to grow them competitively. The little plant had joined the other working-class favourites like the tulip and the chrysanthemum as a source of delight and competition. Societies sprung up to encourage the propagation of these popular flowers. Today, much of that free association around particular flowers is just history. For example, of the many societies dedicated to the tulip, only the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society is, I think, active. Not only was the rise and fall of such clubs and societies a product of changing fashions in horticulture, but, of course, the advent of the factory system crushed the handloom weavers’ way of life. E.P.Thompson’s old, but famous, The Making of the English Working Class provides an account of that tragic loss. Doubtless, his 1963 classic has been superseded by subsequent historians’ work, but it is still very much worth a read. And, for a final reference for this blog post, let me suggest Catherine Horwood’s absolutely marvellous read, Potted History: The Story of Plants in the Home. It is a beautifully produced book, and an insight into the English potted plant.