Available in a dazzling spectrum of colours, and a variety of genus which offer beautiful flowers from early Spring through to mid-Summer, it’s easy to see why these delightful plants have become a firm favourite. Whether they’re packed into patio pots, used to fill flower beds or naturalised under trees, they create wonderful displays, especially when combined with flowering bulbs and foliage plants.
We’re most often asked about the difference between primulas, polyanthus’, primroses and auriculas – and the answer is that primula is the genus to which the others belong.
They take different forms – check out our guide below:
Primrose – surely our most popular wild flower, the native wild primrose with its gorgeous yellow flowers and delicious scent can be found growing on shady banks, under hedgerows and in our woodlands. They make excellent garden plants too, as do cultivated primrose varieties, which are available in bright, bold single or bicolours, and in double or rosebud types.
Once established in beds, borders or containers, these easy to grow perennials will virtually look after themselves.
Polyanthus – believed to be a cross between the wild primrose and the cowslip, polyanthus are characterised by their bright, blazing colours. Their beautiful flowers form either clustered above rosettes of lush foliage, which makes superb ground cover, or at the top of long, stalks – like high-rise primroses!
Auricula – available in alpine, border and double varieties, these seemingly delicate plants are in fact very hardy, being alpine in origin. Although they are often grown in pots, the border and double varieties will happily grow in the ground, as long as they have sufficient drainage and are in a cool, shady spot.
It’s easy to love these gorgeous plants, and this can lead to an infatuation with show varieties – which although they are perfectly hardy, are virtually always grown under protection (to prevent rain washing the whitish meal off of the leaves or spoiling the flowers), and are often displayed in auricular ‘theatres’.
Primroses like moist, well-drained soil, with shade in Summer, so add plenty of organic material when planting to help conserve moisture. They are great naturalised under deciduous trees, and also under deciduous shrubs, of which the best subjects are those which are pruned hard occasionally. Clumps can be divided every two or three years as soon as they reach a good size – either in early Autumn or after flowering.
If you’re planting directly into a bed or border, polyanthus also prefer a moist, well-drained soil and should be protected from harsh Winter winds which can quickly dry them out. Alternatively if you make up a Spring planter with polyanthus, narcissi and hyacinths, you’ll create a colourful, portable display which can be moved to a sheltered position once flowering is finished, safe in the knowledge that you’ll get a repeat performance next year.
As their name suggests, border auriculas are quite happy in a bed or border, as long as they are in a free-draining spot in partial shade – but do keep an eye on them as they are popular with slugs and snails! Alpine and double auriculas thrive in moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil in a sheltered, partially shady spot – or they can be planted in a pot or alpine trough which can be moved to a shady spot in Summer.
Care & Combinations
All members of the primula family should be dead-headed regularly to promote flowering and keep displays at their best.
If they’re planted in pots or containers be aware that the compost can get waterlogged in Winter, so always put a layer of coarse gravel or similar into the base of the pot or container first, and raise it onto pot ‘feet’ to avoid the drainage holes in the base getting blocked.
Sparrows are quite fond of pecking at primroses and damaging the blooms – if your plants are in pots try moving them closer to the house to deter them, or try using blue varieties which hearsay suggests they often avoid.
There are lots of great planting companions for primulas and polyanthus – our favourites are heucheras, Spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodil, narcissi, and muscari, forget-me-nots, hyacinths, tulips and wallflowers.
So now you know why you should have these plants in your gardens, where to plant them and how to care for them, come and check out the gorgeous members of the primula family we have available in-store – and start your perfect primula collection!