Thursday, May 17, 2007

Primula Polyanthus: Spring Jewels

Again, I'm a bit late in posting these, especially as they're taking a break from blooming right now, but better late than never I hope!

I deadheaded them last weekend, and since the plants still look very perky and willing to bloom, I hope to be able to catch a second blush of flowers sometime soon. When that happens, you'll hear about it here ...

These are probably familiar to most of you, given they've become almost ubiquitous potted flowers who appear in early January in floral departments. Often they take up residence briefly in office spaces, only to languish slowly as they bloom, then perish with the typical neglect most office plants are doomed to endure. Let's face it, Primula polyanthus, or the common Primrose, just really aren't cut out to be long-term indoor flowers. Most years I try to buy a couple and keep them alive in the house until it's safe to plant them outdoors, but that particular experiment has only yielded limited success in the garden. We've had some who came back for a couple of years and then vanished. The varieties commonly sold appear unable to tolerate our hot summers and quickly disappear when the real heat sets in.
There are, however, truly hardy varieties to be had for our gardening zone, and last year I finally invested in buying some of them. I'm happy to report that despite the bone chilling spell in April (during which these had already emerged and were beginning to bud out), they have persevered and put on a dandy showing for their first year in their new homes. They did suffer quite a bit for a week or two, then greened right back up and proceeded to pick up where they had left off in their bloom cycle. I've been really grateful they made it, and I look forward to more years of early spring color to come from this grouping.

Primroses generally want a nice loamy soil, kept evenly moist, and appreciate a partly shaded exposure to do well, and if it's an area prone to drying out in the hotter months of the summer, it's wise to give them regular waterings while the foliage is still growing. I put these in relatively late last year (late May) but was careful to make sure they never dried out too much and they stayed green well after frost. If they're happy (as these appear to be!) they'll be up pretty early in the spring, along with the crocuses and galanthus and will start blooming in late March or early April. They do best during the cooler parts of the spring, but depending on where they are growing, they can sometimes bloom well into late May or even June.

Primroses are most probably prized for their colorful early flowers, though I particularly love them for the almost rose-like fragrance some varieties offer ... most notably the yellow cultivars. But whether or not they are pleasing to the nose, they are always --no matter the variation-- likely to please the eye, especially when not much else is blooming in the flower garden. Depending on the year and the weather, bloom time may last more than a month, and in less gentle years they may only appear briefly to grace their spot with a welcome burst of color. They make great companions to other early spring cool season flowers such as pansies and violas, who complement their hue of colors magnificently. But even as a grouping --or even better, a mass planting if you can afford it!-- can bring a lot of beauty to wherever they are well established. They ask only for some diligent care during drier times so that they don't get too dessicated and die back prematurely. As I learn their ways more intimately I'll pass along what I've found ... since I'm still a bit of a novice at growing them ... for me, the fact they return and reward me with their blooms is reason enough to keep at it ....

These pictures were taken on or about April 29, 2007, and appear to promise more to come now that the initial phase of blooming has ended. When I can get some better photos, they'll be likely to make a return appearance here. But even if they don't, I'm more than happy that they have made a spectacular showing this spring, given all the challenges they have faced weather wise!


olivia said...

Primrose is such a pretty flower. I've never had much luck w/ them outside -- so they languish in their pot until they fade away. I've stopped trying.

Great photos of the little peeking IBs ... :)

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