When I worked in a commercial greenhouse in Richmond, BC many years ago I always looked forward to one particular job. We grew a crop of primroses (primula) in four inch pots that occupied two cold frame greenhouses. It might have been the middle of January, with rain falling almost daily from leaden-grey skies but the second I stepped inside one of those cold frames to water it was spring. Spring in the form of hundreds of bright blossoms of yellow, red, pink and white and spring in the air, the wonderful sweet fragrance wafting through the space. Primroses bring that promise of spring to windowsills in homes starting in early January but they are also worthy garden perennials.
There are dozens of species of primroses but nearly all of them share the same wants when it comes to growing conditions. They want a cool, rich soil amended with organic matter and they certainly need a location sheltered from the hot afternoon sun, especially in our valley. Hardy to Zone 5, some winter protection with a light mulch would be appreciated. North or east exposures are a must for best performance; too much heat and they will slowly fade away. Given them right environment and primroses will prove to be a durable perennial that will bloom happily throughout the late winter and early spring. Be prepared to divide them regularly as they will readily form clumps of foliage that will, like many perennials, become reluctant to bloom.
Move your primroses outside in March and plant them in the shady part of the garden. They are great companions for spring bulbs like daffodils that also tolerate some shade. They are ideal for spring planters. Fill a pot with several of mixed colours or combine them with potted bulbs, ranunculus and pansies. The primrose you purchase in January and February are large-flowered hybrids but there are some very good species which become available later in the spring. Primula denticulata, the drumstick primrose, has clusters of small blooms on the end of tall stems. The blooms of Primula vialii don’t resemble primroses at all but they are quite lovely, purple pyramids on top of eighteen inch stems.

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