Primular veris

Primular veris

Purple Primula beesiana

Primula beesiana

Purple primula denticulata - the drumstick primula

Primula denticulata

How to grow Primula

Primula polyanthus

 Primula are easy to grow perennial plants which come in many colours and shapes. Many people when thinking about Primula will bring to mind the popular Polyanthus types illustrated left and they do  make a cheerful display. But, there are many more Primulas in all shapes, sizes and colours of Primula flowering through spring to early summer.

Within the genus are the Polyanthus group (image left) is the most common, frequently sold online and in garden centres as winter and spring bedding. Just a note about these Polyanthus, they are hardy and you can bring them home from the garden center in February and March and plant them out. They are H5 hardy, which is usually hardy all over the UK (except in extreme weather.)                                       

Where to plant Primula

White candelabra primula

 Primula like to grow in moist soil, and many varieties including Candelabra are popular to grow by streams, in bog gardens and are also tolerant of semi shade.  

  Primulas are bright and cheerful and just ideal for a spring border. Primulas are best planted in dappled shade in soil which is damp and not prone to drying out.  If you have a wet area of semi-shade, Primulas are just ideal. Candelabra varieties will grow in even wetter conditions including a bog garden 

           Primula is a woodland plant, enjoying a position in semi-shade,  and benefit from a mulch of organic matter or leaf mould.    Primula are tough plants and will do well in most spots as long as it is not too dry or baking hot sun. Sometimes the leaves on Primula can get a bit discoloured, brown at the edges and removing these will do no harm, (provided it is only a few not too many as the plant needs leaves for photosynthesis,) and also dead heading will help to keep the plant flowering. 

The simple cowslip, Primula veris image bottom left, looks lovely in a natural setting and will colonise a bank forming clumps. It is a a more delicate, simpler version of the blousy cousins in the Primula family. Primula self seed near to the mother plant, and it is easy to dig up the little seedling and grow on or discard depending on requirements.

Primula look good planted on mass together, and with spring flowering bulbs. The later flowering varieties such as Candelabra are ideal with Geraniums and Geum as shown in the images below right.

More ideas on spring flowers and also spring flowering combinations.

Different Types of Primula

In the first image, top left, is the Primrose group which includes Primula vulgaris, the common primrose which is early flowering.

The image centre is of the Candelabra varieties, P. beesiana which is a taller, later flowering Primula. 

Illustrated top right P. denticulata which as its name suggests looks like a 'drumstick'. It is early flowering and a popular Primula to mix with spring bulbs.

P. candelabra are deciduous which means they die back in the winter, but they do return reliably each year for a great spring display and often flower into early summer. The polyanthus and primrose groups tend to be evergreen, or semi-evergreen.  

  Primula vulgaris, the common primrose looks lovely in a natural setting such as on a bankside, and it will multiple over time. Some varieties of Primula vulgaris are scented and shade tolerant. Whilst many Primulas are low growing the popular Candelabra beesiana will grow up to 60cms and the variety 'Harlow Carr' image  below left is tall and has mixed tones of oranges and pinks  

The name Polyanthus describes hybrids of P. vulgaris (Primrose) and P. veris (Cowslip) and these plants are often treated as bedding and discarded each year. Fact is, they are perennial and will come back the following year especially if planted in favourable conditions. To keep them going for a few years Polyanthus are best planted where there is good winter and spring light, because this is when they grow and flower. Polyanthus enjoy a degree of shade over the summer when they die back and then, they will hopefully re start in winter. Although Polyanthus are perennials and so potentially can live for many years, in reality most gardeners will persuade them into flower for only 3/4/5 years after which they may look a tad tired and have few flowers. The name Primula is derived from the Latin primis, meaning first and often Polyanthus are one of the first and very welcome flowers of spring.

Harlow carr primulas at Harlow Car

This is the Primula I like best of all, P. Harlow Carr, a taller candelabra primula, which is long flowering and very hardy. This primula flowers in shades of pink, yellow, orange, purples and more from May through to June. It is tolerant of wet and can be planted in damp areas and even boggy areas, also tolerant of partial shade it is an ideal garden plant for a tricky area.

Close up candelabra primula
Primula veris - the common cowslip

Primula veris the common cowslip

Primula with blue geranium and red geum

Primula with Geranium and Red Geum

updated 07.02.2020