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.

Care checklist
  • Most primulas— except auriculas, which like lean, gritty soil—prefer freely draining soil rich in organic matter (leaf mould, compost, composted manure)
  • Site primulas near the front of the border or under shrubs (e.g., rhododendrons) in partly shaded conditions; some varieties tolerate full sun
  • Divide every three or four years in early spring (just as the foliage emerges) to maintain vigour
  • Poorly drained soil may cause leaf spot, grey mould and root or crown rot; add sand and/or grit to improve drainage
  • Slugs may damage foliage (mercifully, after flowering); control using organic methods or move plants to a drier, sunnier location

Cowslip (P. veris), 25 cm x 25 cm, Zone 3

Umbels of fragrant, nodding yellow flowers held above rosettes of semi-evergreen foliage

Native from Ireland to eastern China (a 9,000-km range), long-lived cowslips prefer rich soil and bloom from late spring to early summer. Given sufficient moisture they will tolerate full sun; ‘Sunset Shades’ produces orange and red flowers. RHS AGM , 1993

Common primrose (P. vulgaris syn. P. acaulis), 15 cm x 20 cm, Zone 4
Clusters of fragrant pale yellow flowers held above rosettes of semi-evergreen foliage

The clay-tolerant, Eurasian common primrose has been popular since Elizabethan times, and has produced hundreds of mutations and hybrids. Difficult to find in nurseries, but easy to grow from seed. RHS AGM , 1998


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