Primrose Cheer

new planter boxes warrant some new primroses this season!

There are two plants that bring cheer to this three-year run of cool, gray springs…the first is Pulmonaria, or Lungwort, the second is Primulas. I appreciate them both and will write about each, starting with Primulas.

I love Primulas and find them endearing and familiar, perhaps it’s my English genes, or my early life longing to go to the Himalayan Mountains. My rational reasons are: they grow in shady areas, which we have in abundance, and the varieties I grow are not fussy. To survive in our soil one cannot be fussy.

Even some of the names: primrose, cadelabra, denticulata, cow-slip, farinose, Juliana, are lovely to say.

Primulas grow all over the world, in vastly different environments, from wild primrose meadows in Britain to plants tucked into the alpine regions of the Himalayan Mountains.  There is even a primula that grows wild in Alaska.  Dramatic, thick leafed auriculas, the primulas of shows and connoisseurs, grow in dry rock gardens. Fairy like, lacy leafed Candelabras love wet boggy areas.

My favorite Primula book (out of print, but the library or an on-line used book store is a good source) is A Plantsman’s Guide to Primulas, by Philip Swindells and is loaded with colorful pictures.  Written for the novice it gives both the history and growing preferences of the different sub-species.  The Genus Primula in Cultivation and The Wild, by Josef J Halda is the primula encyclopedia. It took the author 30 years to compile, traveling all over the world.  It was published in 1992 for the national Primula conference held that year in Portland, Oregon, the first such gathering in several decades, as I recall. Caught up in the fervor of the gathering, I purchased this book, a wealth of information, but at $45 (not a lot of copies were printed) it is likely the most expensive just-under-400 page paperback I will ever own!

a new little denticulata

But I digress. I want you to meet the modest and diverse primroses that grow happily in a northwest garden and encourage you, when poking around your favorite nursery, to look for priumulas beyond the ubiquitous, usually primary colored and single petaled supermarket variety primroses.  Primulas have been cultivated at least back to the 16thcentury and there are a wide variety of the herbaceous varieties (the alpine ones are more difficult to find, and grow, and not good candidates for our wet springs).  As old and hardy as they are, you would think they would be more readily available, but you do have to hunt for the more unique cultivators. Peninsula Nursery in Sequim has, and will be getting more, double petaled primroses, and the ‘drum stick’ looking denticulatas.  I occasionally find a good primula ‘fine’ at Garden at Four Corners in Port Townsend.

You can view my collection over the years on my Primula page. My favorite primula information web site is Arlene’s Garden (a dream garden for a primrose lover!) Another good site is Primula World.

another newbie this spring.

Primulas show up each spring regardless of the weather, bright cheery color, they add charm and bring hope to a garden waiting to wake up.

a tub full of one of my most prolific primroses.
Want to trade a few plants?

“It would be difficult to imagine a time without primroses.  By the Middle Ages they were being praised in literature by poets and playwrights ~ the name ‘prime flower’ meaning the fairest and best, as in Edmund Spenser’s later lines:   
 ‘As fairer nymph yet never saw mine eie
She is the pride and primrose of the rest.’

from The Book of Primroses, Barbara Shaw

Duck and Cover

Crocus

Hellebore

No, this isn’t a post about earthquakes, or ducks.  It’s about the bits of color and soft petals showing up in the winter debris of our yard.  Though it’s the same flowers every year, it is like finding treasure when the Crocuses, Snow bells and Pulmonaria begin to bloom.  And tiny Violets, so hidden, peeked out from under their leaves in January, perhaps they’ve been there all winter!  Our one and only Hellebore is to me a miracle; I did not think they would grow in our ‘extreme’ shade (yes, I know they like partial shade) and clay soil.  I have come to call our yard “Clayville”.  A few years ago I planted the hardiest Hellebore I could find, nothing fancy, and though it looks pathetic, with just a few leaves year round, not lush and leafy like I see them in other gardens, it blooms cheerfully about the time winter becomes tiresome.

tiny, ground cover Violets

The strategy of these early bloomers seems to be stay low (duck) and be sure you have lots of leave debris around you (cover).  The Snow bells and Pulmonaria poke through moss, leaves or whatever is in their way, Violets hide in their own leaves.

Happy to see them, Mike weeded around the first crocuses to show up, and their almost-ready-to-bloom Daffodil neighbors.  They might be feeling a bit chilly at night, and with snow predicted for this weekend, their bright color may soon be gone.

Crocuses are remarkable, they boldly bloom very early, yet even rain will melt their petals, if it snows, they disappear.  Not so with the others, Snowbells well deserve their name, Violets just bury their heads again, the Hellebore and Daffodils will survive, albeit maybe not standing straight, if winter challenges their early arrival with a snow dump.

These early bloomers arrive each year in time to tell us, there is hope, the cycles of Nature begin anew, the world is not just a gray-green-brown blob!  Color will reign!

Snow bells

Pulmonaria, or Lungwort, always puts up one flower stalk very early, then fills in with leaves and more flowers later.