'Velvet Moon' Primrose
"How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where, wild in the woodlands, the primroses blow."
Primula polyantha is not a true species but encompasses cultivars with complex hybrid histories usually unrecorded. In general they are a mixture of European oxlip (P. elatior), cowslip (P. veris), & the common primrose (P. vulgaris).
The "Cowichan" varieties seem to have originated in the 1930s in the Cowichan Valley of Vancouver Island, when someone spotted a purple primrose with only a small yellow center rather than the usual fuller yellow eye, & with red-tinged foliage. The leaves are a normal green in spring, but darken with purple hues as the year progresses, & lasting through winter.
From that one Cowichah Valley plant, a wide array of Cowichan primroses now exist. Although not every plant historian is quite convinced of this origin, the designation "Cowichan" for primroses without the yellow eye is a longstanding tradition.
Given that it was in all likelihood developed right here in the Pacific Northwest, the long-lived Cowichan primroses are frequently offered in our best Puget Sound area nurseries, though they're not encountered in the supermarket & hardware chainstore selections of mixed primroses.
Cowichans perennialize in Puget Sound gardens with great ease, often self-seeding & hyridizing randomly with other primroses in their vicinity. As is common of most primrose species, they need a cool, moist location in rich soil & bright shade.
Our only Cowichan is the cultivar 'Velvet Moon,' a name as pretty as the primrose itself. Its stalks of deep maroon-burgandy blossoms do indeed have a velvety look & texture. The dark color of these flowers, as well as the overall darkness of the leaves as the year progresses, does invoke colors viewed by moonlight.
It blooms starting late March or early April & continues throughout the spring. When it is finished flowering, the larger than average crinkly dark-dark green leaves are alone a lovely addition to any array of ground-level leafy perennials.
Our 'Velvet Moon' is situated among several low-growing fat-leafed plants which love moist bright shade, including the purple-leafed Primula 'Garryarde Guinevere'; a species primrose P. auricula; deeply red-veined Bloody Dock (Rumex sanguineus); tuberous comfrey (Symphytum tuberosum); Aquilegia vulgaris var . plena 'Ruby Port' Columbine, their garden butting up against patches of Asarum caudatum. All but the borage are evergreen, so the mixture of leaf-types & textures are very interesting all year round, even when none are in flower.
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