Primroses are flowers that many people associate with the very subtle delicate pale yellow of our native Primula vulgaris.
Growing at the borders of woodland and beside hedges this beautiful native flower, to about 10cm-25cm the lovely plant can even have an evergreen habit if it has the right conditions. It is native to Western and Southern Europe and the plants were thought to have been first grown in Ireland small nurseries throughout the country from as early as the late 1800’s.
The name Primula, which belongs to the family Primulaceae, literally means ‘first flower’ and in its natural habitat the primrose can be seen showing its pretty little heads as early as January. In the correct setting they often bloom again and again throughout the year making them a very rewarding little plant. The normal flowering month for what in Irish is called the ‘Sabhaircín’ is March to May and yet it really does show its blooms in many other months. I absolutely love my own primroses and I often divide them and plant them in other locations in the garden where a little bit of lighter colour is needed. It’s just such a neat little plant that really works with almost any other flower in style.
The variety I have chosen for this week’s column is a wonderful double Primrose variety that has a sweet pink ruffle. Very vintage in feel and it looks just as good on its own in this little turquoise copper pot as it does planted as a mass of flowers in a bigger container. That makes it a wonderful plant for the smaller garden and even balconies. Admittedly, some people don’t like the old-fashioned feel of this plant but I think it really depends on how you plant it. If you give it the right container and the right treatment then this flower can look very modern and fresh. My suggestion is if you’re going to use Primroses in containers then do it unapologetically. Plant up that container so it’s totally lush and filled to the brink with only one variety, no soil showing. This will make a real statement and avoid the cliche of the primrose mix which can look very dated.
In mythology there are plenty of associations to this flower. This ancient primrose is the sacred flower of Freya, the norse goddess of fertility and beauty and symbolize youth, refinement and beauty. Interestingly, in Celtic mythology the flowers mark the gateway to the fairy realm, giving them a lovely magical touch for children, who love to suck on the sweet tasting petals of the picked flower.
The flowers of the primula are actually edible and have a very delicate taste of honey and blossom, delicious and very subtle. The flower has been used for many things such as making salads, teas and even wine which sounds divine! The primrose also has many other uses such as making primrose jam, desserts and perfume and is also used for many medicinal purposes.
Throughout history this pretty little plant was thought to have a strong sedative effect, and was used to treat hyperactive children. The plant is said to contain salicylates, which are a main ingredient of aspirin and whose effects are highly anti-inflammatory. My favourite Primrose quote is by the renowned 16th century herbalist Gerard who talked about making teas from the flower and declared that “primrose tea drunk in the month of May is famous for curing the phrenzies”. So if this year you find yourself in an Easter-egg frenzy…you know what to pick. Fabulous.
Plant source: Homeland, Sligo. homeland.ie
Lissadell House, County Sligo
If you’re a fan of Primroses and beautiful gardens in general then Lissadell House in Sligo is a wonderful destination for you. The gardens of the 19th century Neo-Classical house have many Primroses naturalized in drifts throughout the gardens and there is even a primrose named after this wonderful historic house, the Primrose “Lissadell’. Last Spring I had the pleasure of planting some of these together with the owner Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh’s son Eddie, who is a keen gardener. The site is spectacular in itself, surrounded on one side by the majestic Benbulben and the other by the wild Atlantic Ocean. The mature woodlands surrounding the house have many wonderful
surprises and the coastal Alpine garden is really special. The House itself is a wonderful place to visit if you’re interested in history. It is the birthplace of Constance Markievicz, one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, and is also well known as a favourite retreat for the famous poet WB Yeats who is buried just down the road in Drumcliffe. The owner’s passion for the history of the place is apparent and their fun-filled events see everything from adventure sports to Easter egg hunts take place on the grounds. For the plant lover there is even a room in the house dedicated to the flowers and botany of the gardens, full of stunning original drawings and flower journals. For more visit www.lissadellhouse.com
The Irish Primrose
There are many wonderful varieties of Primroses and every year I collect more but some of my own favourites are the wonderful Irish Primroses by grower Pat Fitzgerald. The collections that Pat creates have been raised from old Irish varieties through many years of conservation, breeding and selection work by Joe Kennedy and Pat FitzGerald. This makes the plants very close to our native Irish Primrose and thus very hardy and long lived and perfect for naturalizing in a semi-shaded spot. Interestingly these Irish Primroses which were given to Michelle and Barack Obama in 2013, have been a massive success story in the states- even Martha Stewart is a fan. And what’s not to like about these lovely varieties. From their names -Inishfree and Drumcliff and even Lissadell, the flowers not only sound authentic and pretty, they also really are. One thing I have noticed after planting them in my own garden is that they grow much like the native vulgaris, making the much hardier and long lasting than many of the imported varieties. I’m sure they look great in the Obama’s White House in Washington too.
For more go to www.fitzgerald-nurseries.com
I have a South facing border out the back of the house that I would love to plant up. At them moment there is nothing in there, it used to be an old rockery space but it felt so boring so I started to dig it up and improve the soil. I would love to encourage more wildlife into the garden and also have a nice bright collection of colours. It’s beside the patio area and is roughly about 3m by 5m and has a plastered wall at the far side of it. Do you have any suggestions for what I could plant here to make it a buzzing and happy space this summer? I’d like to be able to go to my local garden centre and just pick up some plants there.
Mary, County Meath.
Thanks for your email. What a fun little project to get excited about. I love planting up beds to encourage wildlife. I think the aim for a garden in general should always incorporate a successful combination of butterfly, bee and bird loving perennials and evergreen accents that will hold valuable nectar in summer, seed-heads for wildlife in Autumn and protection in Winter. The first thing I’d look at is heights and the direction you are viewing it from. The patio area will most likely be your main vista of the bed-or perhaps a window view also? You ideally want to be able to see all the plants in the scheme to any plants you go for you will have to consider the eventual heights of the flowers. Sunflowers for example would be fantastic at the back of the border and lower growing early bulbs, primroses, and ground-covering flowers would be better at the front beside the patio. I am a big fan of choosing a plant to anchor a theme. Lavender is one fantastic plant that birds, bees and butterflies love, mine are absolutely covered with butterflies in Summer. Lavender as an anchor plant also has the benefit of being evergreen which means that the border will hold a little structure in the Winter months and not die down totally. If this is your anchor, or base plant then I would plant them in irregular drifts- as bees like to move about in nature- and then dot in higher and lower varieties of plants around, in front and behind the Lavenders. I am a big fan of Scabiosa varieties, particularly the ‘Butterfly Blue’ which is so pretty and a real bee magnet.
Rosemary and thyme may also valuable additions with some creeping thyme at the front covering the ground and the rosemary shrub left to grow naturally towards the back. Both have valuable flowers for wildlife and the added benefit of being great for cooking. For a bit of colour contrast to what we have already I would suggest some Achillea varieties such as Achillea ‘Lilac Beauty’ and Achillea tutti Frutti ‘Pink Grapefruit’ both fabulous meadow like flowers that will attract plenty of buzzing friends and look great with Lavender. To add a little bit of different texture Geraniums can add that round dot of pink and purple and Geranium ‘Orion’ and Geranium ‘Janette’ are great to add in for colour and the added benefit of pretty feathery foliage. Finally, to have some Autumn interest and plenty of seedheads, Sedum varieties never fail to impress. The fleshy foliage is lovely contrast to the other plants and give the border some structure while really shining in the later months of the year. Also worth considering is a dwarf variety of the aptly named Butterfly Bush or Buddleja, which is a true Wildlife magnet!