Monday, December 03, 2007

Cowichan Primroses

Where did all the Cowichan primroses go? I guess the answer might be... to Brittany. Cowichan primroses are deeply colored garden primroses with the yellow eye in the center being very small, so you get a big snootful of rich, dark color. The original Cowichan primrose, I read, appeared from seed in Cowichan Station in the lovely Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in the 1930's. It was a deep red with almost no eye, so it was very striking, and was passed by the original gardener, a man named Neel, to a friend, then it was passed along further until a local nursery began to sell it, calling it 'Cowichan Primula'.
Florence Bellis, the breeder of Barnhaven primroses in Oregon, obtained a plant and did extensive further work with its pollen (her original plant died soon after she got it), producing a whole strain of small-eyed, dark-colored primroses. Upon her retirement (she died about twenty years ago), her breeding stock was passed on to several successive further generations of primula growers, and currently is under the care of a couple in Brittany who carry on the original name as Barnhaven Primroses.
Interestingly, supposedly the original Cowichan plant still survives in the gardens of some primula fanciers in Great Britain, and can be seen on the message board of the SRGC.
Now, it seems as if about the only primrose of the Cowichan strain you can get commercially in this country is 'Velvet Moon', a deep red. Thompson & Morgan (who it is said might have been the source of the seed for the original plant) did sell what they call Cowichan seed, and I bought a packet many years ago, but in moving from garden to garden I only still have the one seedling primrose shown above that has made it to my present garden... and it has rather too large of an eye to be considered a real Cowichan. This fall I constructed a new little shady, moist bed with the thought in mind that I would grow some more of these little beauties. Alas, next year's T & M list does not seem to have the Cowichan seeds in it... I have a serious case of gardening winter mopes, and it is only December.

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My solution this morning was to buy a dozen amaryllis bulbs on the internet. I know I will give most of them away. At the same time there is the momentary fantasy of starting, and then racing, 12 amaryllis bulbs. Which one will bloom first? How about which one will be the tallest? How about mixing them up and guessing which will be the bright red?
Who said gardeners can't have fun in the winter.
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I understand your "mopes." The flowers are beautiful! Very interesting story.

I visited the Barnhaven site. I noticed that they sell primroses... and add seeds? They also sell a Victorian Polyanthus that has a flatter petal and large eye. very similar appearance to yours.

There's actually quite a variety of plants there. I'll explore more. Thanks!
Shady... I wish we had half the variety of stuff in this country that they have in GB.
I was probably the person who wrote about the Cowichan primrose on the SRGC forum. The original Cowichan primrose is not in Great Britain, but in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where it is grown by a number of people. It does not set seed, so there is no danger of it being supplanted by seedlings.

Velvet Moon was developed by the late John Kerridge of Vancouver B.C. and Saltspring Island.

Diane Whitehead
Diane... Now that's fascinating that the original Cowichan doesn't set seed; so the "Cowichan" seed from T & M must be pretty far from the mark. Oh well.

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