I’M ALWAYS SURPRISED BY HOW MANY CANDELABRA PRIMROSES there are by bloom time, because you never really know until just beforehand, when Primula japonica’s lettuce-like leaves seem to suddenly spread and stretch up and out from nowhere. Whoosh! This year, in the considerable shade of some old winterberry hollies and viburnums, I seem to have a positive infestation. Things could most definitely be worse than to be surrounded by these charming creatures.
The candelabra primulas, ranging from white to reddish (even bawdier than my favorite bawdy primrose!), require no care whatsoever: Plant a few in a shady, moist spot (the classic location: streamside) and let them do their thing. I started with several maybe eight years ago. If they’re happy, they will colonize, sowing around and moving a bit, with more plants some years and fewer others.
The ones nearest to the edge where bed meets lawn here sow into the turf, a habit I consider generous of them, not thuggish. I simply dig out the little babies early in the month, when the foliage is the size of baby salad greens, and move them into new spots or pot them up to share with friends. They don’t miss a beat; the foliage quickly expands to nearly 12 inches.
Primula japonica blooms from mid-May until almost July for me, and in the most amusing way: by sending up additional whorled flowerheads above the initial one (you can see the next unopened tier in the detail shot, in the middle of each cluster of already-open blooms). And up they go, from 12 inches at first flush to about 18, successive layers of color stacked on top of one another. Hence the Liberace-style name: candelabra.
In Zones 4-8, where they are hardy, garden centers probably stock these in the shade perennials section; they are nothing rare. If your local place doesn’t have them, these sources may (depending on the time of year and inventory levels, of course):