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HomeHome & GardenEYE-POPPING PRIMULAS: For a true blaze of colour, these cowslip cousins are...

EYE-POPPING PRIMULAS: For a true blaze of colour, these cowslip cousins are a summer joy

EYE-POPPING PRIMULAS: For a true blaze of colour, these cowslip cousins are a summer joy

  • Nigel Colborn reveals that it has been a ‘fantastic’ spring for primulas this year
  • UK-based gardening expert says that Asiatic primulas are just getting started 
  • Candelabra primulas’ colours range through creams to yellow or vivid orange

What a fantastic spring this has been for primulas. Cowslips bordered many country roadsides for weeks; primroses decorated shady banks and pathways, often joined by sweet violets and mauve cuckoo flowers. 

Alas, our lovely spring wildlings are over now. 

But their bigger, brighter c­ousins, the Asiatic primulas, are just getting started. 

The finest and tallest come from the foothills of the ­Himalayas. One, Tibetan Primula florindae carries flowers on upright stems a metre high. 

Bountiful blooms: The vivid tones of Primula japonica Miller’s Crimson. Nigel Colborn reveals that it has been a ‘fantastic’ spring for primulas this year

The flowers are cowslip yellow and hang in downy clusters at the stem-tops. There are also garden varieties with colours running through coppery tones to raspberry red. Those tend to be less lanky, making better garden plants. 

Other Asiatic primulas have flowers arranged in whorls from half-way up the tall stems to their tops. Individually, the flowers are recognisably ‘primrosy’, but together they create beautiful spires in gentle colours. 

Tall varieties are known as ‘­candelabra primulas’. To thrive, they and other Asiatic primulas prefer moist soils and cool conditions. As waterside plants — grown near but not in a pond or stream — they’re enchanting.

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL 

The colours of candelabra primulas range through creams to yellow or vivid orange. Others can be deep, sultry red, running down through pinks to a warmish, flush-white. Though perennial, it’s wise to raise or buy young plants every third year. 

The best red hues come from P. japonica and the Chinese P. pulverulenta. Colours run from purplish crimson, through pink and pale rose tones to white. 

Among named varieties, P. japonica Miller’s Crimson is one of the best. For a more startling shade, the vivid orange-red of P. Inverewe contrasts strongly with the pale, mealy textured stems. 

If grown in moist conditions, they often self-sow. That’s even more likely in high-rainfall areas. Interesting new hybrids could then appear in more Bountiful blooms: The vivid tones of Primula japonica Miller’s Crimson novel colours. If you’re lucky enough to have a natural bog or stream, the plants will flourish almost unaided. Most will self-sow each year, providing vigorous young plants. 

GROW FROM SEED 

Candelabra primulas are not long-lived. So you’ll need new plants, whether bought or home-grown. 

Mature plants can be divided but seed usually gives better results. Buy those or gather them from your mature plants. 

Sow the seeds in autumn or spring, in a well-ventilated greenhouse. Young plants can also be raised in a cold frame. 

The seeds germinate rapidly if sown very fresh — preferably as soon as they’ve been shed. If sown later, germination is slower and more erratic. 

One erudite gardener watered new-sown seed pans with hot water from a kettle. That worked for him — but too hot and the seeds will be cooked. 

Candelabra primulas are impervious to cold but hate winds. They could also languish unless the ground is humus-rich or dressed with garden compost. 

They team beautifully with hostas, beardless irises and non-invasive wetland plants. 

They’re not nearly as difficult as you might think. So if your garden has a damp zone, do give them a try. 

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