Old Fashioned Primulas

Primula (Cultivar unknown - not Sir Galahad)
Primula (Cultivar unknown - not Sir Galahad)

Any one who knows me will know I have a weakness for Primulas which has grown in recent years.  I have lots of the native Primula vulgaris, a growing collection of Candelabra Primulas (all grown from seed), a Primula sieboldii snowdrop and one of my favourites Primula Dark Rosaleen.

Primula 'Ingrams Blue'
Primula 'Ingrams Blue'

I have been toying, and continue to toy, with the idea of having a nursery.  This is a distant dream and probably won’t come to fruition until I retire.  However, I would like to specialise in a plant group and I have been thinking that Primulas would be a good one.  However, my research has been very frustrating.  I have tried to find out more about this group of plants but keep ending up with auriculas which I know are part of the family but aren’t the Primulas I’m interested in.  I like the old-fashioned varieties.  I had almost given up on this notion until I went last week to the Garden House in Devon.  I was delighted and surprised to discover a collection of named old-fashioned Primulas.

Primula 'Lilicina Plena'
Primula 'Lilicina Plena'

Now I don’t profess to be any sort of expert on Primulas but I would like to understand more about their history, how they are grouped etc.  If anyone can point me in the direction of a good reference book or website that would be most appreciated.

Primula 'Dusky Lady'
Primula 'Dusky Lady'

I was further enthused when I was watching Gardeners World that evening only to see a piece on old-fashioned Primulas in Ireland.  I just need to find a way of tapping into this world, getting seed and starting a proper collection.

Primula 'Ken Dearman'
Primula 'Ken Dearman'
Primula 'Radical Red'
Primula 'Radical Red'


I was particularly taken with Primula ‘Radical Red’ as it is just what I need to bring some spring colour to my hot border.  Sadly the nursery didn’t have any but I still came away with a Primula ‘Ingrams Blue’ which is far bluer than the photo in this post suggests.  I actually think it is going to be quite hard to place in the garden in such a way that the dark blue flowers stand out.  I will have to find something light in colour to offset it against.

Anyway, as well as discovering a wonderful garden, my nugget of an idea became a larger nugget.

Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

14 thoughts on “Old Fashioned Primulas”

  1. Helen, I Googled ‘ National Collection of Primulas,UK’ and found some very interesting results.
    I have a recollection that miss Jekyll bred a lovely strain of primula and there was a huge planting at Sisinghurst in the nuttery. Unfortunately there was some sickness that wiped them out.

    Primulas were a favorite when I lived up north; unfortunately they do not like the heat of the south. This year our temperatures are already in the 80’sF

  2. thanks for this Helen, I personally don’t like auriculas though I know many people go potty about them, I love the simple natives and when I moved here there is a lovely purple one which I now know is called wanda, I really like some of those you have shown and you have wetted my appetite to look for some, glad you have had such a lovely visit to a garden I enjoyed reading the post about the garden which I have just caught up with, Frances

  3. What a great goal – I’d too love to have my own small specialist nursery one day … you’ve got me thinking :). I have no experience with Primulas. I’ve recently been eyeing them at the nursery though – they have lovely pastel shade primulas – pink, blue and white. Very tempting, they are so beautiful.

  4. Beautiful aren’t they Helen. ‘Lilacina Plena’ or ‘Quaker’s Bonnets’ are one of my favourite spring flowers. You have probably come across the Barnhaven Primroses website but if not it’s worth a peek at as it is a source for both plants and seeds : http://www.barnhavenprimroses.com/index.php
    Thinking about reading material 🙂

    1. Thanks Anna – I had heard of Barnhaven primroses but hadnt really looked in to them. I will go an investigate

  5. Sadly, none of your photos appeared on the post – don’t know what went wrong there! Primulas are such good value for money aren’t they – mine seem to flower practically all year round.

  6. Your nursery dream sounds exciting and I do wish you the very best with it. I might caution against too much specialisation though. I worked at an alpine nursery which had 20 or 30 primula varieties as well as a huge, incredible range of alpines and small plants that could be considered ‘alpines’ in terms of size (tiny fuchsias, small ground cover clematis, dwarf conifers – that sort of thing). It was a small, family run business with fantastic quality plants but they did find it increasingly difficult to compete against Dutch imports. The latter are quickly brought on in rich compost, under glass and shipped over in huge lorries. At point of sale, these very cheap plants can look OK but, because they’ve been brought on so quickly, they often fail when planted out. Sadly Forest Lodge Alpines is no more, closing down in 2008. The owner was just finding it increasingly difficult to earn a living against such stiff competition and against much, much larger UK growers. Some Garden Centres aren’t too bothered about the quality of plants – they just want turnover (having worked for such a GC, I know this at first hand experience) which is why so many now sell ‘stuff’ that has nothing to do with gardens – plus, of course, you can only ‘mark up’ plants so much. Having said all that (doom and gloom) I do know of one small nursery near me that has stayed in business because they do sell good, strong plants. And I think there is definitely still a need and market for small independent nurseries, run by passionate, knowledgeable plants people – which, of course, you are. Good luck – whenever you might do it. Dave p.s. Mr K over at Gardening at the Edge often posts re primulas, in case you didn’t know.

  7. The best book I know of which will give all the info on the old fashioned Primroses is Primroses by Roy Genders. Long out of print, written in the late fifties, it is still the best in my opinion, and second hand copies can be bought at reasonable cost off the internet.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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