Plants - Perennials

Planting primroses in your spring garden

Stephen Westcott-Gratton
Photography by
Millette Photomedia

One of the first to arrive at spring's pretty garden party, the humble Primula warrants VIP status.

I’ve always said that if I could only grow one genus, it would be spring-blooming Primula. Sentimental associations aside, primroses are a complex group of plants with more than 400 separate species (half of them native to the Himalayas), all of which are happy to cohabit together, and consequently have produced a staggering number of exquisite crosses and cultivars. But my all-time favourite is the simple common primrose (P. vulgaris), and despite the huge number of hybrids it has spawned, I still think its modest, demure flowers are the most beautiful.

I recommend starting off your primrose collection with species forms rather than complicated hybrids—some of the more common types, such as drumstick primroses or cowslips, are easy to cultivate, and will give you a good feel for the genus before you start shelling out for some of the more temperamental cultivars (e.g., double-flowered varieties). If you plant enough species forms together, you may even develop your own hybrid strain with a little assistance from the bees.

Species primroses aren’t readily available at nurseries, but are easy to grow from seed, and if you can germinate tomatoes, you’re in! Thompson & Morgan Canada supplies seed for all of the primroses mentioned here except 'Wanda' (which is propagated asexually), and provides good instructions for maximum germination.

The name “primrose” comes from the Latin primus, meaning “first,” due to the fact that in many areas, primroses are the first flowers to bloom in spring. Get your new gardening year off to a stellar start by adding some of these cheerful perennials to your existing flowerbeds.


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