Saturday, April 19, 2003

Primroses can grow well in Tristate

The family Primulaceae includes 400 species of primula. As a group, they commonly are called primroses, but the name specifically refers to P. vulgaris, the wild European primrose.

The name primula is derived from primus, meaning "first or early." Hence, the "first rose" of the year or the "prime-rose."

Another common name for the plant - cowslip - apparently comes from the Old English cu slippe, for "cow dung," because the flowers are common in pastures.

In England, today is Primrose Day, the anniversary of the death of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli; the primrose was his favorite flower. Queen Victoria placed a bouquet of primroses on his bier.

• Choose an open site that is shaded in the summer, especially from afternoon sun.
• Provide rich, organic compost with excellent drainage. Mix grit and builder's sand into the planting hole.

Place the plant in its hole with the crown at soil level.
• Pine needle mulch is superb, but don't cover the crowns.
• For the true primrose (P. vulgaris), try Kists Greenhouses at Findlay Market for a wide assortment.
• For seeds and plants mail-order: Thompson & Morgan Inc., Jackson, N.J., (800) 274-7333.
Primroses in florists' shops this time of year are complex hybrids (in the trade called greenhouse primroses) and they are not necessarily perennial plants.

You may set them out in the garden in late spring, but there is no guarantee they will return.

If you want to raise hardy primulas, I suggest you grow them from seed or buy them from mail-order nurseries specializing in primroses.

Essentially, all primroses perform better with mild winters, mild summers, partially shaded areas and consistent moisture in the soil.

The common cowslip (Primula veris) is an adaptable and functional primrose that works well in Tristate gardens. The dark green leaves are in perfect contrast to the deep yellow flowers, which open continually for four to six 6 weeks in the spring.

Primula acaulis - derived from the English species - will flower in early spring. It comes in pink, white, yellow, lavender-wine and bronze.

Primula denticulata or the "drumstick primula," produces bell-shaped flowers on 9- to 12-inch stems. I once grew one in my woodland garden with lavender-violet blooms. Because of our hot summers, it returned for only a few years.

Primula japonica or the "Candelabra" primula, a favorite, grows to about 12 inches tall. It produces layers of flowers in rings around each stem. Colors range from white to Crayola red.

Primula sieboldii is widely grown in its tall, soft-or bicolored forms. The pastel forms, with petals like lacy snowflakes, are especially sought.

The plant's triangular leaves with neatly pinked edges appear well before the flowers (which open in April and May), then disappear by midsummer.

Try growing some hardy primulas. Expect to lose a few, but try again.

A primrose grower once said: "If they find a spot they like, they're yours forever."

Contact Tim Morehouse by Web site:; mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer. (If writing, enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.)

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