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).
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)…