Primrose

Bright Yellow English Primrose;
or, False Oxslip;
or, Yellow Polyantha Primrose

"Upon this Primrose hill,
Where, if Heav'n would distil
A shower of rain, each several drop might go
To his own primrose, & grow manna so."

-John Donne
(1572-1631)

   

Large-flowered English primroses are sold in many colors in front of supermarkets & drugstores & discount department stores. Often these are already at their peak of flower when sold & naive gardeners put them at the edges of their lawns only to watch them swiftly fade away.

They are bred to be quickly produced in greenhouses & sent to vendors before spring begins. They are not necessarily bred for garden vigor, so in a year or two they can fade away rather than naturalize, supposing they last beyond the season they were planted.

But now & then one or another of these inexpensive plants will perennialize with great vigor & bloom extravagantly every year from late winter to early spring. Such well-established specimens can be dug up & divided every two or three years.

The bright yellow specimen shown here isn't even planted in an ideal location, but it comes back every year. It's in a droughty bright sun location at the edge of a property where I do occasional landscaping for a friend. English Primroses generally prefer bright shade & evenly moist soil, but there are several primroses in this dry sunny location doing quite nicely, though they do seem to appear later than in protected spots, & will vanish into dormancy in the heat of summer.

As hybrids their behavior can be unpredictable. Such primroses are usually about six inches tall with blooms nestled atop the basal leaves, but elsetimes clump to over a foot high or produce stemmed flowers well above the basal leaves.

They are gardenable in zones six through eight; as annuals they do fine down to Zone 3 & may even survive a winter if mulched to protect the root. They can also be purchased in full flower in winter & kept in the house until the flowers fade, & then put out into the April garden with the hope that it will perennialize, but if they don't, they at least gave some joy indoors for a while.

The name Primrose means "First Rose" because they are among the very first flowers of the year. In Victorian England they symbolized First Love as well as Youth.

   



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