Primroses everywhere, part 2 – and now in colour

The sequel to my traditional primrose post is inevitable. That post was full of classic, delicate, pale yellow, ‘natural’ primroses – subtle, understated, traditional.

This one isn’t.

Except they are all ‘natural’ – there’s been no fiddling about, other than whatever hybridisation the primroses themselves have been indulging in.

Sports have been part of primrose growing for centuries. Elizabethan gardeners were particularly fond of them (the bizarre ‘hose in hose’ primroses were a real hit), and the almost white primrose was very popular.

Coloured primroses appeared in English gardens in the seventeenth century, with the introduction of the mauve-pink P. vulgaris sibthorpii from the Mediterranean. But there wasn’t much development; deliberate messing about didn’t really become part of things until 1911, when the Caucasian P. juliae was introduced. And then there’s always ‘non-deliberate’ messing about…

Some colours are natural in the wild, like the pink primrose here in west Wales. It’s present all over the place and not just on sites associated with cultivation (as in my garden, which is associated with cultivation sometimes, ho ho):

and has been described as possibly being a genetically different form of the native primrose.

I love my pinks… and I swore I’d never, ever say that about a pink flower, but the primroses are exempt – as are many others when it comes down to it. They come in the palest pink, and deeper shades. Who knows what their origin is?

I even recently spotted a crimson one growing by the bank of a stream in the wilds – I suppose the seed could have been carried down from a garden higher up the hill, but you never can tell…

As far as my garden goes, I’m not quite sure where the crimson variations come in, but I’m very glad that they do. There are signs of gradual colour gradation, and that’s without getting into the variations on centre colour – mostly yellow, of course, but various shades – and centre size and centre definition, and whether the centre has a white border between it and the petal colour, or not:

They’re a mystery.

Incidentally in his 1597 Herball, Gerard cites a ‘practitioner of London’ who use primroses to curve his patients of the ‘phrensie’, and adds ‘the roots of Primrose stamped and strained, and the juice sniffed into the nose with a quill or suchlike, purgeth the brain and qualifieth the pain of the megrim’. I’ll bet it does.

Mind you, when you consider that a ‘megrim’ was a migraine, I think my crimsons would have been more likely to induce one, though of course Gerard would have been talking about the wild yellows. Then again, the word was also used for vertigo, and in the plural for low spirits – they could cure that. (Oh, and it also meant staggers in horses. Hm.)

But there have always been the strange ones, the chances, the oddities.

You can get plants with ‘abnormal’ (hrumpf) flowers arising quite spontaneously among perfectly ordinary primroses. I really hate the term ‘abnormal’ (and in many contexts, not just when applied to my primroses; variation is what life should be about, and poo to stereotype and conformity – big hrumpf).

I’ll get off my soapbox to add that, sigh, I do know that in a botanical context, my salmon-pink primroses are indeed abnormal for the type, but I don’t care.
I am particularly fond of this variation on the theme, possibly because there aren’t quite so many of them; possibly because they’re rather improbable.
And of course the mixing pot that is my garden can throw up some even more unusual variations.
I have quite  a lot of ‘real’ and cultivated oxlips, and inevitably I now also have strange oxlip / primrose variants:

and, amazingly, a persistent reddish-orange ‘cowslip’. Every year is different, except for the cowslip, which has been around for a few years now (it’s not out yet, like its more conformist cousins, but I’m watching the spot carefully).

And it’s no good saving the seed. Even though I must admit I’ve probably not been very good at it in the past, I’ve had no luck whatsoever replicating the more interesting variations on a theme. Now I just let them do their own thing and enjoy the randomness of the results. They scatter themselves quite randomly among the classic yellows, nestling under the daffodils and sunning themselves along the paths.

All I have to do is enjoy them. They won’t last for ever – soon there’ll be other things to appreciate, so I’ll make the most of these right now. And, even though the fritillaries and daffodils might not be as numerous as they were last year, the primroses are certainly wonderful. There’s always an upside to everything in a garden (well, except if the garden in question has been covered in decking / devoted to nothing but the perfect lawn)…


14 Comments Add yours

  1. croftgarden says:

    According to Himself I’m hard to impress, so well done I’m more than impressed by your post. Your bees must be working very hard helping to shake -up the primrose genetic beanbag, but what a stunning result.
    Your blog has raised my spirits as I’ve been slaving over the croft accounts all afternoon!

    1. kate says:

      I think everyone needs bright primroses at this time – end of the financial year, agh…. When I come home, after spending five hours trying to balance petty cash just to have someone say ‘oh, I forgot, I paid XXX in cash’, what I really need is a happy cheerful flower to greet me. And a machete to take back to the office, of course.

  2. I tend to think of myself as open minded but intolerant and one of my intolerances, I would have said, is pink primroses. So it is quite a surprise to find myself attracted to these. It feels a bit of a guilty secret, like having a weird crush on James May. I still think my first love is the pure and perfect yellow, followed by the white, but ….

    1. kate says:

      James MAY???????

      Dear oh dear, my poor primroses! (I may have to let you have a clump of the palest pink, just to convert you…)

  3. wellywoman says:

    Did you see last weeks Gardeners’ World with Carol Klein and an Irishman who is growing some beautiful Irish primula hybrids? They were so beautiful. Love your salmon-pink ones.

    1. kate says:

      I’ve heard about his hybrids on the primrosey grapevine – they do sound wonderful, and no I missed GW. Must try and get it on iPlayer (If I can squeeze enough bandwidth out of our local telephone exchange to let me do something so exotic).

      Those salmon pinks are even more lovely in the flesh. Or in the whatever…

  4. paulinemulligan says:

    It’s amazing what they get up to when your back is turned! We just have the white primrose in amongst the lovely yellow ones, but my cowslips have been mis-behaving, red, brown, and orange are starting to appear!! Books tell me that they can quite often come up red, but I move all the strange coloured ones to a bed by themselves and let them get on with it! Love all your different colours, they look very pretty together, and you have so many of them!

    1. kate says:

      Oh good, somebody else with the weird cowslip hybrids! I’ve had brown before, too, but I’m dreaming of a salmon pink to match the primroses. I could never have created that tapestry of colours artificially; nature always does it best. Last year I really thought the yellow primroses were taking over; now I’m not so sure.

      I think moving some of the cowslips is a great idea. Though I love walking through the meadow and gasping in amazement at what they’ve come up with, as I do with the prims, the grass is taller when the cowslips really get into their stride, so shifting (some of) them would make them easier to see… hmm..

  5. Christina says:

    Primroses are cheerful, well they certainly cheer me up anyway, I remember buying some very brightly coloured ones to put together in a pot to look at soon after my mother died and I really needed something to lift my spirits. Enjoy! Christina

    1. kate says:

      What a good idea – primroses are so cheerful without being brash, even the crimsons. Yes, they’re gorgeous… sigh – because now they’re coping with the return of torrential rain here, and I’m sure they’re hating it. Poor little things!

  6. Crystal says:

    Lovely post. I agree with you entirely about primroses. I struggle to keep them through the year though because of our dry summers.

    1. kate says:

      They’re so cute… When I was down in London (admittedly a lot dryer than here in west Wales, especially this morning), I kept trying to transplant primroses and get them going in my long strip of a Streatham garden. Not a one survived – soil? Climate? Not wanting to live in south London? I wonder what effect our changing weather patterns will have? Hmm.

  7. energyandlight says:

    What a wonderful collection. I love the ab(ove)normal salmon pink ones and the fact that you can watch them evolve each year is fascinating. Plus it really had never occurred to me to have primroses en masse like that, I’d only ever thought of them in containers or regimented borders.

    1. kate says:

      Well, I can claim no credit for the massed primroses really, except in that the development of the meadow has been good for them, because it’s just Ma Nature doing her thing. But they are fabulous (especially the salmon pinks)…. I love ab(ove)normal – quite!

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