Plant of The Month – Primula Vulgaris

Primulas can often be overlooked by gardeners and designers, as the more ornamental varieties are often associated with mass bedding schemes and container planting. Due to this, I think a lot of us are missing out. The humble primula vulgaris, our native primula, is pretty spectacular, especially if you see it naturalised in massive drifts in the countryside. So why don’t we see it more in our gardens too? Surely they deserve to be permanent residents and not just drifting through as we rip up the scheme for next seasons display.
Primula vulgaris could be considered to be evergreen but occasionally it will retreat and become dormant in the summer during hot, dry weather. The Primrose is one of our most familiar and attractive native wild flowers. This low carpeting perennial has pale yellow flowers with a deep yellow centre, which are in bloom from March to May.
Primulas have two different types of flowers which look superficially almost identical. One type is called ‘pin-eyed’ and the other, ‘thrum-eyed’. The two different types of flowers are produced on separate plants. The production of two different types of flowers is an adaptation to promote cross pollination. In pin-eyed flowers, the stigma is at the top of the flower tube and can be seen in the centre of the flower looking like a small green pin head. In the thrum-eyed type, the style reaches only halfway up the flower tube, so that the stigma is also positioned halfway up inside the tube. The anthers in this type are located at the top of the flower tube and can be seen as an orange ring in the centre of the flower.
Primulas are plants for cool, often shaded locations. They are found growing in the wild at the edge of woodlands, in hedgerows, on north facing banks and mountain and coastal cliffs. While Primulas prefer a bit of moisture, most don’t like to be waterlogged. They do, however, thrive on most soil types making it the ideal plant for any garden.
During the course of history, various parts of the primrose have been used in herbal medicine; the root was used as a reliable and safe emetic (it induces vomiting) and as an antispasmodic. The whole plant was thought to be a sedative, the leaves were used to treat wounds and primrose tea was believed to relieve nervous disorders. There is some confusion over the origin of the name ‘Primrose’, however it is now widely accepted that it is a corruption of the Italian ‘primaverola’, which in turn is a diminutive of ‘fior di prima vera’ meaning the first flower of Spring. The Cowslip and Oxlip owe their names to the most unseemly words ‘cow slop’ and ‘ox slop’.
Primuals often look best when naturalised, in a wilder location. A lot of us don’t have the room to recreate this sort of scheme in our own gardens, so we overlook the possibilities of what can still be achieved within our small urban plots. If you don’t have space to litter a meadow with thousands of primula plugs then think about dotting them throughout your border, under deciduous shrubs, in between your spreading perennials where they will recreate the naturalised look within your more formal setting, providing a striking start to the beginning of the year.
There’s nothing vulgar about primula vulgaris, so make the most of it, whether that be in your garden or in the