There is a large family of plants commonly called the Primrose. These mostly hardy perennials are native to Europe, North America and some parts of Asia, with one variety, Primula magellanica, is native to South America.
The many varieties available to gardeners can be grown in either bog or woodland gardens, rock gardens and as houseplants. Primulas mostly require a partly-shaded area and soil that is moderately rich, moist but well-draining.
They can be propagated by seeds or divided after they have flowered, to increase their numbers in the garden. Most varieties bloom mid- to late-spring with an abundance of flowers in a wide range of colours.
The most common mistake gardeners can make with these flowers is not planting them deep enough. Make sure to slightly bury the ends of the stalks of the lowest leaves, otherwise the plants will need to be staked or will tip over.
The most commonly seen and used varieties are:
Primula vulgaris – a European native, bears its flowers singly on stems that rise from the base of the plant, in many bright and cheery colours of red, yellow, white and blue. It grows 6 inches high x 6 inches wide and is suitable in zone 5-8. It can be pushed into zone 4 if given a well protected site.
Primula x polyantha “Pacific Giants” – These are commonly sold in grocery stores in late winter and early spring. They are an easy-to-care for, zone 3-8 perennial and come in a wide range of colours with a yellow center or eye. They provide an abundance of flowers that emit a delicate, spicy scent which contracts nicely with the dark green, oval leaves. They can grow one foot high x one foot wide, but are more commonly seen at 6 inches in height.
Primula denticulata – are more commonly called the Drumstick Primrose. They bear their fragrant flowers in a tight ball-shaped head at the top of the flower stem, in colours of lavender, purple, pink and white. They can grow 12 inches high and 6 inches wide, prefer bright light but not direct sunlight. They are perennials in zones 3-8 and are best divided after flowering.
Primula obconica – are similar to P. denticulata in colours, height and shape, and have a sweet and spicy fragrance, yet they are an annual household variety.
Primula alpicola – are one of the later blooming primula, usually early- to mid-summer. The flowers are clusters of bell-shaped blossoms on stems that rise above the foliage, leaves being deep green and either oval or lance shaped. They like acidic soil, will tolerate full sun if provided with humus, moist soil. Colours range in yellow, white and purple, and they will grow up to 2 feet tall x 1 foot wide. Treat them either as an annual or pot plant, as they are perennials only in zones 6-8.
Primula capitata – large clustered flowers are borne on stems 2 to 3 feet high above the foliage. he flowers, seen in purple shades are a ball-form, yet they open from the bottom of the ball towards the top. They can tolerate full sun if given plenty of moisture and are perennial in zones 4-7.
Primula vialli – have fragrant flowers produced above downy, pointed leaves. The flower stems is a conical flower spike, which attracts bees and butterflies, in colours of hot-pink, red and purple. They grow up to 1 1/2 feet tall x 6-8 inches wide, tolerate full sun and will naturalize to form drifts in filtered sun or along a pond bank. They are perennial in zones 5-8 and a tender perennial in zone 4.
Primula veris – are commonly called the Cowslip Primrose, and are traditionally grown as a cottage plant adding beauty and charm to the garden. They grow their yellow flowers in loose sprays on top of their flowering stems, nodding daintily in the breeze. Not growing very large (8 inches high x 8 inches wide), they are worth growing as a perennial in zones 3-8. They can take full sun if provided a heavy humus soil that retains moisture well.
Primula japonica – are commonly known as a Japanese or Candelabra Primrose, and grow their flowers on top of light green foliage, in colours of pink, white and lavender. They can grow up to 2 feet high x 1 foot wide and will self sow and spread easily when given humus, moist soil. They are a perennial in zones 5-8, but, if given a well-protected site, can be pushed into zone 4.
Primula Malacoides – are a clump-forming annual variety or houseplant, producing large yet dainty flower clusters in pink, purple and white, some having a darker or lighter eye. They bloom in late winter to early spring and grow up to 1 foot high x 1 foot wide. The leaves are a medium green and finely toothed along the edges. They can be divided easily after flowering to increase the number of plants.
Gardens of every description should have at least one primula in it. The primula family is a large and very diverse one, suiting every gardener’s needs and tastes, yet even a kitchen table can be brightened up by the cheery colours they provide. They are a very easy plant that even the novice or non-gardener can achieve success.
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