Many newcomers to the Primula world may
be a bit hesitant to try new species and varieties.
The following list includes primulas for a wide range
of habitats and gardening sites. All are easy to grow
and provide the gardener with “starter collection” of
With so many species and, at least twice
that many hybrids, there is a primula for almost every
gardening condition. Primula veris, P.
vulgaris and their many hybrids provide
a splash of spring color in the border or in containers
on the deck. Candelabra hybrids produce a bold, multicolored
splash along a stream, pond or bog garden. Primula
auricula and its many offspring are
ideal for containers, a shady nook in the rock garden
or as conversation pieces in the alpine house.
Though small in stature, P.
frondosa and its relatives are perfect
additions to troughs. Primula marginata,
a variable plant in leaf form and flower
appearance, will cover a shady part of a wall with frosty
green foliage and delicate lavender flowers. For a low
maintenance companion plants to rhododendrons in a shade
garden, P. sieboldii and
P. kisoana are without
equal. The former can be found in numerous flower shapes
and colors, many of which are named varieties. For the
connoisseur, who likes a challenge, there are many rare
and beautiful species that would elicit many admiring
comments from fellow enthusiasts.
Primula veris is the
“English cowslip” that was once commonly found in pastures
and meadows. It is one of the parents of the modern
polyanthus hybrids. From a rosette of deep green leaves
rises a ten-inch flower stalk topped with slightly nodding,
fragrant, bell-shaped yellow flowers. The petals have
a reddish spot at the base. Orange, red and russet color
forms are also available. It is an easy, vigorous plant,
requiring rich, moist but well drained soil. In areas
with hot summers, shade during the afternoon is desirable.
Seed germinates easily and is readily available from
primula seed sources.
Primula vulgaris is
the native “Primrose” found in Britain, Ireland and
most of southern Europe. This true primrose provides
the parentage for the modern acaulis hybrids. Single,
soft yellow flowers top an eight-inch stem. Other color
forms, such as pink and purple, are found on some subspecies.
They need a good, rich, moisture retentive soil and
dappled shade. It is important to keep this and most
other primula species moist during the warm mid-summer
months. Seed germinates readily and is available from
specialty seed sources. (The term vulgaris refers to
the true species; commonly the term acaulis designates
Primula x juliana hybrids
are the delight of the gardener who wants a hardy, colorful
plant for the border. The parents of these hybrids are
P. juliae and other members of the Vernales Section
which includes P. veris, P. vulgaris and P. elatior.
The best forms are small mounds of deep green topped
with a variety of flower colors. The plants spread by
a creeping rootstalk and can be easily divided after
flowering. Although flowering times for the different
cultivars vary, most are among the earliest of the primulas.
Since hybrids do not breed true from seed, the gardener
should acquire clones from specialty nurseries and primrose
shows. To be assured of a hardy, proven plant, look
for named clones such as ‘Wanda’ (not Wanda hybrids
or Wanda strain), ‘Springtime’, ‘Jay-Jay’, ‘Dorothy’,
‘Snow White’, and many more. Primula sieboldii is a
marvelous delicate-appearing plant for the woodland
or as an underplanting for rhododendrons. Native to
Japan, this plant is available in a multitude of beautiful
forms. Some are named and there are some excellent seed
strains. The slightly hairy, scalloped leaf rosette
bears 9-12 inch stems of large flat flowers in shades
of pink, red, white and lavender. The outer side of
the petal may even be a different shade than the face.
Primula sieboldii grows
well in a peat bed or any shady, moist position. As
the ground starts to become dry in the summer, the plant
dies back to an underground rhizome. Plants may be divided
just as the leaves are emerging in the spring or after
flowering. It is easily grown from seed.
Primula denticulata ,
the Drumstick primrose is an unusual, versatile, early
spring primula. The flowers emerge before or at the
same time as the large, somewhat coarse leaves. The
round heads of flowers in shades of lavender, through
purple, red, pink and white flowers put on a spectacular
display in April and May. The flower stalks are about
12 inches tall and after flowering, the leaves will
enlarge to 12 inches, so the plant must be given room.
It is easy in a border or anywhere where moist soil
is found. Seed is readily available. The plant can be
divided or propagated by root cuttings.
Primula florindae is
another large plant for the shady border. The large,
heart-shaped shiny leaves make a good contrast to the
large mop head of fragrant, hanging yellow bells on
36 inch stems. It flowers freely over a long period
in the summer and will fill the evening air with a sweetly
scented perfume. Primula florindae hybrids are also
available in color ranges from yellow, through orange
to a red shade. This vigorous plant is dependably perennial
and very hardy. It will tolerate anything from a moist
soil to waterlogged conditions by a pond. However, it
shouldn’t be allowed to dry out in the summer. Seed
germinates readily and produces fast-growing seedlings
ready to be set out in the autumn of the same year.
Whether in or out of flower, Primula
marginata makes a striking addition to the
rock garden. A member of the Auricula Section, it has
fleshy, toothed leaves that are covered with white meal.
In April, masses of violet, lavender, pink or white
flowers appear on three to four inch stems. The leaf
shape and flower color varies from form to form. Primula
marginata and its cultivars are very hardy and make
excellent garden plants provided they have good drainage
and are not allowed to become too dry during the summer.
They tolerate more sun than most primulas making them
an excellent choice for the rockery. In hot summer areas,
some shade is beneficial. Some growers prefer in keep
them in pots in a cold greenhouse or alpine house so
the rain does not wash the beautiful farina off the
leaves. Plants are easily grown from seed or from stem
cuttings in March or April.
Slightly larger thanP. marginata
are the cultivars of Primula auricula. The species parent
has fragrant, soft yellow flowers over meal-covered
leaves. It is a true alpine and requires a cool, well-drained
site. Easier than the species and with a wider color
range are the “garden auriculas.” These hybrids have
a four to five inch rosette of fleshy leaves from which
arises a four-inch flower stalk. The flowers are found
in almost all colors of the rainbow. Garden auriculas
are good rockery plants or they can be used at the front
of a border. The soil should be well drained, but should
be kept moist during the summer. In hot summer areas,
some afternoon shade is appreciated. They are also commonly
grown in pots in a cold greenhouse or alpine house.
Seed germinates well the first or second year. Plants
can also be propagated vegetatively by cuttings in the
For the trough or alpine house, one of
the most charming of the primula is Primula
frondosa. It is a small plant with flower stems
rising to about six inches. The leaves are heavily coated
with white farina. The lilac-pink flowers bloom from
March to May, depending on the weather. In the autumn,
the leaves die back leaving a compact, farinose (mealed)
resting bud. Primula frondosa does well in the garden,
providing it does not dry out in the hot summer months.
It will bloom well even in a considerable amount of
shade. Because of the beautiful meal on the leaves,
it is probably best for a situation that has some protection
from rain, such as a cool greenhouse. The seed germinates
readily and plants may also be obtained from divisions.
Primula japonica was
probably one of the first candelabras in cultivation.
It is one of the easiest of the section, with 36-inch
spikes of flowers in shades from white, pink, red and
almost purple. The flowers form several whorls on the
stalk. Hummingbirds love this plant. Seed germinates
easily. Plants can be grown in any moist to wet soil
in partial shade where it makes a spectacular display.
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