The male and female flowers can be seen on this primula as well as an early pollinator.

Primroses are not as well known in the spring garden as daffodils but they do brighten up shady areas in spring where daffodils do not grow.

The common primrose, or English primrose, (Primula vulgaris) is a low growing perennial in zones 4-8+, which enjoys part shade to full shade. In cooler, northern areas they can take a full sun position, but southern growers should grow them in at least a part shade position.

The primrose leaves grow under the winter debris of leaves on the garden and appear mid-February to early March, or as soon as the snow has melted. The leaves are mid green, crinkled to look at and surround a central crown.  When you see the leaves starting to grow, give a dose of light fertilizer. The flower stalks are only about 4 inches high so the flowers nestle among the leaves. Flower color varies from pale yellow, through bright yellow and some pinks and reds. A few blue colors are also found. The actual flowers are either male or female but both are produced on the same plant – look closely and you will see the difference in the flower center.

Nectarine primula
Nectarine Primula from the Belarina series.

In recent years, the simple primulas have been hybridized and you can now find double flowers such as in the Belarina series of primulas.

Grow primroses in well-drained soil and a location that is either on the north or eastern side of the home. The flowers continue to arrive for several weeks but eventually halt when the temperatures rise above about 65⁰. The leaves start to brown at this temperature too. Clear away dead leaves and mulch with compost.

Primroses work well with early daffodils in a shady border and are popular for cottage garden designs as well. They are also important for attracting early pollinators to the garden.  Disguise the decaying leaves of the primulas with hostas or coral bells, which also enjoy part shade locations.

by Kate Copsey, Garden Writer/Author