Cultivation and Propagation: Primula vulgaris

Beth Chatto is a well-known British gardener.  She has published many books and articles about a variety of plants based on her experience with her own gardens and nursery.  In her book Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook (published in paperback by Orion Books, London, 1998) she describes her successes- and sometimes failures – in her garden.  On page 300 she describes a problem faced by many people struggling to keep some of the older varieties of P. vulgaris.

“I do not find the more choice varieties of common primrose Primula vulgaris the easiest plants to grow.  I find the truly bog-loving primulas, which include the lovely candelabra types, easier, probably because they are healthier, as most of them are grown from seed.  The common primrose in all its forms, double and single, seems to do best on heavy clay soil, provided a little leaf-mould is added.  It must on no account be water-logged, nor must it be dry brick-hard in summer.  This can happen only too easily in long periods without rain.  But there is more to the problem than finding the right soil conditions.  With the choice double varieties in particular, the plants will deteriorate after a few years if left to themselves.  They must be dug up when you find they will fall apart into many pieces, each with a long warty-looking base with white roots attached.  You must remove as much of this base as possible, cutting just below the leaf bases where the new roots will be seen emerging.  Reduce the leaves by about a third in length, discarding most of the old outside ones.  Plant the trimmed pieces into pots or trays and stand them in a sheltered place until they have recovered, made new roots, and are strong enough to be planted out in the open.  It is essential to take this trouble to retain the beautiful old varieties which seem, over generations of vegetative propagation, to have lost some of their original vigour and now seem prey to all the pests and diseases which lie in wait for them.”


1.            Clump of P. vulgaris (after 3 years)


2.            Washed root clump showing warty base


3.            Divided clump


4.            Two divisions ready to plant


5.            Division showing growing tip