PRIMULA – primrose, polyanthus

This very large group of plants, suitable for a wide range of conditions, includes annuals, biennials and perennials which are fully hardy to frost tender. They are grown for their beautiful flowers.

Suitable site and soil. Essentially, there are three broad types: those that like ordinary soils in cool positions; waterside plants that like deep, fertile, moisture-laden soils; and alpine types which like sunny positions in open soil of sand, stone chippings and leaf mould.

Cultivation and care. Generally, plant out between autumn and spring. Do not let alpine types dry out in summer.

Propagation. Grow from seed sown when ripe in gritty soil and peat. Well-established clumps can be lifted and divided in spring or when flowering has finished. Propagate P. auricula from offsets in spring or autumn.

Recommended varieties. P. polyantha (polyanthus) is a favourite for normal conditions; it comes in a wide range of colours and grows up to 30cm – 12in high. P. vulgaris (primrose) is another favourite for normal conditions. P. auricula (auricula) does well in alpine conditions and there is a large range of varieties available; they are fragrant and grow up to 23cm – 9in. The moisture-loving P. florindae (giant Himalayan cowslip) grows up to 90cm – 3ft high.

Pests and diseases. Aphids and caterpillars can attack the leaves and weevils and cutworms attack the roots. The plants are prone to fungal, viral and bacterial diseases.


Primroses make pretty bedding plants and look best beside a shady path or as the edging to a shady bed. Plant alongside scillas, tulips and other spring flowering plants.

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