Starter list of Primula

Many newcomers to the Primula world may be a bit hesitant to try new species and varieties. The following list includes primulas for a wide range of habitats and gardening sites. All are easy to grow and provide the gardener with a “starter collection” of spectacular blooms. As your additions to Primula grow, you will increase your collection many times over.
Note that we will be adding photos to this article in the near future.  Until then, please visit where you will see photos of these and many more primulas.
  • Primula veris is the “English cowslip” that was once commonly found in pastures and meadows. It is one of the parents of the modern polyanthus hybrids. From a rosette of ddep green leaves rises a ten-inch flower stalk topped with slightly nodding, fragrant, bell-shaped yellow flowers. The petals have a reddish spot at the base. Orange, red and russet color forms are also available. It is an easy, vigorous plant, requiring rich, moist but well drained soil. In areas with hot summers, shade during the afternoon is desirable. Seed germinates easily and is readily available from primula seed sources.

  • Primula vulgaris is the native “Primrose” found in Britain, Ireland and most of southern Europe. This true primrose provides the parentage for the modern acaulis hybrids. Single, soft yellow flowers top an eight-inch stem. Other color forms, such as pink and purple, are found on some subspecies. They need a good, rich, moisture retentive soil and dappled shade. It is important to keep this and most other Primula species moist during the warm mid-summer months. Seed germinates readily and is available from specialty seed sources. (The term “vulgaris” refers to the true species; commonly the term “acaulis” designates a hybrid).

  • Primula x juliana hybrids are the delight of the gardener who wants a hardy, colorful plant for the border. The parents of these hybrids are P. juliae and other members of the Vernales Section which includes P. veris, P. vulgaris and P. elatior. The best forms are small mounds of deep green topped with a variety of flower colors. The plants spread by a creeping rootstock and can be easily divided after flowering. Although, flowering times for the different cultivars vary, most are among the earliest of the primulas. Since hybrids do not breed true from seed, the gardener should acquire clones from specialty nurseries and primrose shows. To be assured of a hardy, proven plant, look for named clones such as ‘Wanda’ (not Wanda hybrids or Wanda strain), ‘Springtime’, ‘Jay-Jay’, ‘Dorothy’, ‘Snow White’, and many more.

  • Primula sieboldii is a marvelous delicate-appearing plant for the woodland or as an under planting for rhododendrons. Native to Japan, this plant is available in a multitude of beautiful forms. Some are named and there are some excellent seed strains. This slightly hairy, scalloped leaf rosette bears 9-12 inch stems of large flat flowers in shades of pink, red, white and lavender. The outer side of the petal may even be a different shade than the face. Primula sieboldii grows well in a peat bed or any shady, moist location. As the ground starts to become dry in the summer, the plant dies back to an underground rhizome. Plants may be divided just as the leaves are emerging in the spring or after flowering. It is easily grown from seed.

  • Primula denticulata, the Drumstick primrose is an unusual, versatile, early spring primula. The flowers emerge before or at the same time the large, somewhat coarse leaves. The round heads of flowers in shades of lavender, through purple, red, pink and white flowers put on a spectacular display in April and May. The flower stalks are about 12 inches tall and after flowering, the leaves will enlarge to 12 inches, so the plant must be given room. It is easy in a border or anywhere where moist soil is found. Seed is readily available. The plant can be divided or propagated by root cuttings.

  • Primula florindae is another large plant for the shady border. The large, heart-shaped shiny leaves make a good contrast to the large mop head of fragrant, hanging yellow bells on 36-inch stems. It flowers freely over a long period in the summer and will fill the evening air with a sweetly scented perfume. Primula florindae hybrids are also available in color ranges from yellow, through orange to a red shade. This vigorous plant is dependably perennial and very hardy. It will tolerate anything from a moist soil to waterlogged conditions by a pond. However, it shouldn’t be allowed to dry out in the summer. Seed germinates readily and produces fast-growing seedlings ready to be set out in the autumn of the same year.
  • Whether in or out of flower, Primula marginata, makes a striking addition to the rock garden. A member of the Auricula Section, it has fleshy, toothed leaves that are covered with white meal. In April, masses of violet, lavender, pink or white flowers appear on three to four inch stems. The leaf shape and flower color varies from form to form.  Primula marginata and its cultivars are very hardy and make excellent garden plants provided they have good drainage and are not allowed to become too dry during the summer. They tolerate more sun than most primulas making them an excellent choice for the rockery. In hot summer areas, some shade is beneficial. Some growers prefer to keep them in pots in a cold greenhouse or alpine house so the rain does not wash the beautiful farina off the leaves. Plants are easily grown from seed or from stem cuttings in March or April.

  • Slightly larger than P. marginata are the cultivars of Primula auricula. The species parent has fragrant, soft yellow flowers over meal-covered leaves. It is true alpine and requires a cool, well-drained site. Easier than the species and with a wider color range are the “garden auriculas”. These hybrids have a four to five inch rosette of fleshy leaves from which arises a four-inch flower stalk. The flowers are found in almost all colors of the rainbow. Garden auriculas are good rockery plants or they can be used at the front of a border. The soil should be well drained, but should be kept moist during summer. In hot summer areas, some afternoon shade is appreciated. They are also commonly grown in pots in a cold greenhouse or alpine  house. Seed germinates well the first or second year. Plants can also be propagated vegetatively by cuttings in the spring.

  • For the trough or alpine house, one of the most charming of the Primula is Primula frondosa. It is a small plant with flower stems rising to about six inches. The leaves are heavily coated with white farina. The lilac-pink flowers bloom from March to May, depending on the weather. In the autumn, the leaves die back leaving a compact, farinose (mealed) resting bud. Primula frondosa does well in the garden, providing it does not dry out in the hot summer months. It will bloom well even in a considerable amount of shade. Because of the beautiful meal on the leaves, it is probably best for a situation that has some protection from rain, such as a cool greenhouse. The seed germinates readily and plants may also be obtained from divisions.

  • Primula japonica is probably one of the first candelabras in cultivation. It is one of the easiest of the section, with 36-inch spikes of flowers in shades from white, pink, red and almost purple. The flowers form several whorls on the stalk. Hummingbirds love this plant. Seed germinates easily. Plants can be grown in any moist to wet soil in partial shade where it makes a spectacular display.

Primula japonica

By Duane Buell, Alaska