a plant i’d order: primula japonica

primula-japonica-groupingI’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-detailPrimula 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):

  1. Janice says:

    I love primulas, they feel like the real harbinger of spring. The botanical garden up at our university has the most fabulous displays of all kinds of primulas, grouped around the ponds and in the woodland areas of the garden. My personal favourites are the english style cowslips, which hug the ground rather than flowering on stalks. My current fave is Primula polynathus “Gold Lace” (looks like the kinds of flowers kids draw, and the flowers just jump out at you from the shade!).
    Keep the pictures coming! our primulas here have pretty much finished.

  2. Okay, you’ve got me sold. I’m buying some this weekend and planting them in a clump alongside a small pond I recently graced with stands of Ligularia ‘The Rocket’ and Siberian iris ‘Chilled Wine.’ The landscaping of this spot is far from complete, though my spouse tossed into the water a handful of bulrush seeds last year, resulting in some splendid stands of cattails. And I decided to preserve an immense burdock that has taken over a six-foot-in-diameter section of one bank—its rough, flamboyant leaves are so lush and amazing, rather like Gunnera, though I plan to cut down any flower stalks to keep it in check. (And I steer clear of its leaves, to avoid contact dermatitis.)

  3. In my adoration of blooming lilacs all over Rose Cottage, I have neglected the primula planted along the woodland path to the Bob and The Girls (the king of the roost and the laying hens!). Your post is a timely reminder for me to check on them! Thank you for such a lovely post–your blog is stellar!

    Debbykay at Rose Cottage Gardens and Farm

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Debbykay, and thank you for your kind encouragement. Glad to have you here. Sounds positively bucolic there…I’m headed over for a visit now. See you soon again.

  4. Maree says:

    Primulas are SO my favourite, and here in South Africa, they spring up in Winter, and die off early spring. Much like our Aloes here that flower in our Winter, and start flowering in Spring/Summer in Europe. Great pics.

  5. Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener says:

    what a nice pictures. I love primroses, hardy & perky – at least P. japonica, eliator, veris & sieboldii are for me here in Virginia. And they are so easy to start from seeds.

    I am glad you posted about them. More people should plant them.

  6. Debra Coyle says:

    I love those primroses! Mine flower close to the ground. I don’t know what kind they are but the beautiful blue flowers were blossomed as I was pushing the snow away! Hardy little buggers!

  7. Mareline Staub says:

    I have a slew of these growing in a very wet spot. Mine are in various reds. Just separated a clump that came from the seeds of previous ones….boy were they tough to get apart. My advice….don’t plant too close together. Enjoy your pictures Margaret!

  8. Mary Anna says:

    Gorgeous! I’ll have to find one of these! (BTW, Plant Delights has them again – I’m trying to restrain myself, already got my PD shipment!)

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mareline. I think mine would like more moisture…but we have been having dry summers. Can’t make everybody happy, right?

      Welcome, Mary Anna. I have not ordered much of anything; told myself I was not “allowed” until I did divisions and cut back shrubs that were a mess and so on, really gave the place a facelift. Now you are reminding me I wish I had some wonderful things coming in the mail…

      See you both soon again, I hope.

  9. Pam G. says:

    I bought three primroses at a garden show-I think they are Oceania? I am just trying to keep them alive until I can plant them, of course the flowers are gone but they are beauties. Primroses remind me of England

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