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!
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.
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.
“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