Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Winnowing The Primulas

Perhaps there is no other genus of plants that I have tried to grow here that I've managed to kill off quite as prolifically as primulas; it's like a roll call of the war dead, remembering the lovely alpine species that took one look at their new home here in Iowa, and decided the compost bin was probably more hospitable. This is rather depressing, considering that I didn't even try the dicier species. There are plants that don't care for our hot, muggy Iowa summers; there are plants that don't like our frigid, often dry winters... primulas hate them both. However, I am content; there are half a dozen species that do well here, and I've come to the realization that rather than continuing to try to grow other types, that I should just plant the heck out of those I know I can grow. It would have been nice, of course, if I had figured this all out by judicious and reasoned selection, rather than by planting one of everything and seeing what died; I could have saved a lot of money, which I could have invested in the stock market... well, I guess the financial outcome would have been the same, anyway.
Here is what thrives here: first, Primula sieboldii, a primrose wise enough to go dormant after blooming, so it misses our blazing summer and foul winters; through seed and division, large patches of this "beginner's primrose" are everywhere in our garden. Second, Primula kisoana, which is so tough that it seeds out into the bark chip pathways, where it gets walked on regularly. Third, certain members of the vulgaris-elatior-veris complex; especially those with a fair amount of inheritance from the vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii from the drier, hotter Balkans (I've just picked up a selection of a strain of garden primroses bred for the hot southern U.S., said to contain a lot of sibthorpii blood). Primula elatior does especially well here, and the Sunset strain, with its orange-red flowers, is quite striking. Finally, I must mention Primula japonica; I guess I can't say this is a carefree grower here, because I had to bury plastic tubs in the ground filled with loose compost in order to give them the moisture they crave, but with this innovation they are growing as big as cabbages.
I've not completely given up on growing a few other kinds, but they will need special little spots, and so I will be moving very slowly on this front.
Above, from top: elatior 'Sunset' strain, double yellow vulgaris 'Sunshine', japonica in the tub, deep indigo vulgaris 'Kingston Twilight', kisoana with its fuzzy leaves, and then puple and pink colonies of sieboldii.

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Hi Don,
I was wondering when you would start posting these lovelies! I really must find Sieboldii for my little primrose bed, though I did find a pretty blue one recently. My P. polyanthus hybrids are going great guns right now ... what was once 5 plants (in 2005) has now multiplied to over 20. They're not fancy, but pretty and tried and true, so I'm sticking with the winners! I think my frequent watering during the summer keeps them happy...
IVG... your polyanthus patch sounds very pretty; different colors?
My polyanthus are mixed colors and one is very similar to the first shot in your post. The rest are various shades of pink/yellow, golden yellow, red/yellow, white/yellow, etc. They make a nice bouquet. I'll be posting on them later this week probably so you can see them then.
I had to laugh at your description of trying to grow Primulas - it echoes my experience, though I haven't tried as many varieties. This is the first year I have one blooming happily.

Cedar Falls IA
I think I should learn from your wisdom rather than starting out on my own trials of primulas in our very cold winter zone (with dry summers). I would assume you can grow auriculas there? They seem to put up with our weather.
Sue... I used to garden in CF, but can't remember what primroses I grew there.

Gardenista.. auriculas don't tolerate our summer heat.
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