‘And in the wood where often you and I
on primrose-beds were wont to lie’ . A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
It ‘s a bit chilly for lying around on primrose beds at the moment but as we cycle round the Suffolk lanes they are a wonderful sight.
As the primroses start to go over then the cowslips look ever more fabulous. Here is my daughter’s favourite walk at the moment through the fields near her home.
Primroses are notoriously promiscuous and although the primroses and cowslips usually grow in different locations, sometimes they grow in the same place and hybridise. They do the same in the garden and I quite enjoy the resulting polyanthus in a range of colours.
These primrose x cowslip crosses are called Primula polyantha. They are not to be confused with true oxlips, Primula elatior. We are lucky in Suffolk as we still have some native oxlips as well as cowslips, although they are rare. The umbels of pale, primrose- yellow, oxlip flowers fall on just one side.
As we cycle around I have seen the odd wild primroses in pink and red and I have also come across red and orange cowslips growing far away from any houses.
You can buy seeds of these colourful cowslips in sunset shades and I am very fond of them. I have them dotted about so that here and there they can hybridise with my primroses.
The resulting polyanthus are very vigorous. I know most plants people cringe at the idea of those rather vulgar, oversized, gaudy polyanthus you see on sale everywhere in winter. They will wilt in a hot room or die outside in the frost. I dislike them too but I don’t believe that the only acceptable primrose is the modest native Primula vulgaris. People have been hybridising primroses since Elizabethan times and doubles or hose- in -hose were always highly sought after. Old fashioned double primroses are particularly beguiling. Unfortunately they don’t set seed and tend to disappear. I have loved and lost several. Fortunately there are some modern double hybrids.
I also love the laced primroses in gold or silver.
And then there is the delectable double laced Primula ‘Elizabeth Killelay’. This was found in her garden, by a lady called Hazel Bolton, she named it after her grand daughter. Imagine finding this in your garden .
There are some dainty primroses which have been crossed with Primula juliae to give neat foliage and smaller flowers. I have two, Primula ‘Tomato Red’ and Primula ‘Lady Greer’ which is a neat little polyanthus.
For many years I grew lovely Barnhaven primroses which come in such yummy colours you feel you should be eating them. Last year I discovered the Irish primroses which have been developed over 35 years by Joe Kennedy from seeds of hedgerow primroses. His eyes must be sharper than mine because I have never seen any wild ones with the lovely bronze leaves of these beauties. They are all very strong and healthy and now I am on a mission to collect them all. So far this is what I have.
There are over 600 species of primula and some of them are very miffy little alpines. But as long as you have some ordinary primroses in different colours they will seed around and delight you with their multi-coloured off-spring. And what else blooms from February until April? I love them, they are one of the delights of spring.