Vol 78, Issue No. 2 (Spring 2020)
Members click here for the full issue
The View from Here by Elizabeth Lawson
Primula Cultivation by Robin Hansen
Where Do I Start by Dean Wiegert, Secretary
Vera Maud Primrose by Maedythe Martin
The Smaller Auriculas
A Life Time Of Gardening by Anne Hogue
Miss Winnifred Wynne by Maedythe Martin
Minutes September 15, 2019
Proposed Revision to the Constitution
Officers of the Chapters
The View from Here
by Elizabeth Lawson
As I struggle to make sense of the current changes in our society and the uncertainty that we face, I have searched for bright stories that come out of dark times. One is that of the founding of the American Primrose Society in 1941 by a small group of primrose enthusiasts, one being the now legendary Florence Levy (later Florence Bellis), who became Editor of the Quarterly in 1943 and founder of Barnhaven Primroses. The years preceding had been hard: World War I, the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Great Depression, and on December 7, 1941 entry into World War II.
Florence Levy described details of the founding of the society in an essay titled “First Steps” published in 1976 in the Quarterly (see first entry under About Us on the APS homepage, link: https://americanprimrosesociety.org/about-us/bringing-primula-enthusiasts-together/). In the article Levy draws a connection between historical events and the formation of the first garden clubs in America. She writes:
Maryland took the first step in 1860 by organizing the Horticultural Garden Club but stumbled when war was declared a year later. The Civil War could also have some bearing on the founding of the Ladies’ Garden Club in Athens, Georgia in 1891. But perhaps it is just my fancy as a southern-born that the memory of Sherman’s march from Atlanta to Savannah had something to do with this invitation: “Every lady who might be interested in growing anything from a cabbage to a chrysanthemum is welcome.”
Still, only twenty-seven years had passed since Sherman’s 60,000 men had cut a sixty-mile-wide swath some three hundred miles to the sea. In those twenty-five days, they burned everything they could not eat. I am quite sure that many of the ladies who gathered in Mrs. Lumpkin’s ante-bellum drawing room that chilly January day remembered it very well. General Sherman died two months after the ladies organized.
Maintaining the fledgling organization during World War II was daunting. The first President, Capt. E. S. Bradford, in his President’s Message of July 1943, writes: “The American Primrose Society cannot hope to grow mightily while the war emergency is on. It is compelled to assume the role of a holding organization to keep Primula growers and lovers in contact with each other for the duration. Through it and them we can continue to lay the foundation and hold the basic organization for swift growth after the war” (Vol.1, Issue 1, July 1943). And they did—because of a shared passion. Captain Bradford concludes his message by describing the “Primula family” as “one of the loveliest, most useful and versatile of the instruments for creating beauty that can come to the hand of any gardener.”
The story of Florence Levy and Barnhaven Primroses sprang out of an historical moment and a serendipitous encounter with a seed catalogue. She writes, “I was a victim of the Depression, and a very different person in the 20s than I have ever been since.”1 She had trained to be a concert pianist but ended up out of work, destitute, and consumptive. At a friend’s house she came across a Sutton’s seed catalogue but could not barter overseas: “Then the miracle happened. A bit of luck and a bit of cash, and the last $5 of it, with the seed order, was carried through snowdrifts to the suburban post office. There was 10 cents left and my husband and I bought two Hershey bars to eat as we tramped back in the snow to our little place.”2 She had ordered primrose seeds—Gertrude Jekyll’s Munstead Strain and Sutton’s Brilliance and Crimson King. She took 1,231 seedlings to an unheated barn in Gresham, Oregon where soon enough she would have 40,000 polyanthus in the old apple orchard on a hillside behind the barn, part of a strenuous breeding effort that spread Barnhaven primroses throughout the United States and beyond. In her catalogue of 1954/1955, she quotes a customer from Scotland: “It is rather a thrilling thought that primroses from Barnhaven form an international link around the world, a kind of floral chain like the daisy chains we used to make when we were very small.”
The American Primrose Society is part of the “floral chain” around the world. Now is the time to read the quarterlies closely and consider writing an article about primrose experiences in your neck of the woods. Check the website frequently for reports of new developments that occur between quarterly publication dates and consider sending additions that you would like to see to the Webmaster. In this issue, please pay attention to a proposed revision to the Constitution to permit the holding of online Annual General Meetings, which as this year proves is an important step in order to maintain organizational flexibility and strength in an international organization. A two-thirds majority vote of members is required to pass the amendment. Please vote.
Here in Ithaca, New York, I, like the rest of the US and much of the world, am enduring this long moment of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. All my friends agree that there is really just one thing to do that is really hopeful–and that is gardening. Even my non-gardening friends have reached this conclusion. I am going to take this opportunity to garden more closely, to watch the “news” in the garden, day by day, not to turn my back on our crises but to enhance my stamina and resilience.
1. See Angela Bradford’s The Barnhaven Book, p. 4.
2. Ibid., p. 5.