The Primrose Path.

‘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.

Primula veris

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.

 Oxslip. Primula elatior

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.

Wild Cowslips

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.

Primrose 'Quaker's Bonnet'

Primula ‘Quaker’s Bonnet’

Primrose 'Sunshine Susie'

Primula ‘Sunshine Susie’

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 .

Primula ‘Elizabeth Killkelay’

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.

Primula wanda ‘Tomato Red’

Primula ‘Lady Greer’


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.


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38 Responses to The Primrose Path.

  1. Christina says:

    they are all rather jolly plants that make me smile when I see them.

  2. What a splendid post and a very well chosen title, especially as it’s Primrose Day.

  3. mrsdaffodil says:

    Lovely post. The names are charming – “Quaker’s Bonnet” and ” Strong Beer”.

  4. What amazing variety! I always think it’s surprising when I find a red primrose among the yellow but those you picture are all stunning.
    It’s interesting how easily they cross with each other, too.
    I hadn’t heard of those “laced” primroses before, and to be honest I would probably have mistaken them for auriculas.
    All the best for the rest of this uplifting season 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you, I love the way they hybridise and you get such lovely surprises. So far the laced ones have never seeded about in my garden although they make nice big clumps.

  5. I never knew there were so many kinds of primrose. We can buy them in the winter down here, but they don’t last long.

  6. snowbird says:

    What a collection, the bronze leaf ones are different, I’ve never come across them before. I just loved Quaker’s Bonnet, the perfect name, how she suits it! She is utterly adorable. Your bike rides sound a real treat!xxx

  7. Chloris says:

    These Irish bronze -leaved primroses are so healthy and have beautiful coloured flowers.
    We are becoming obsessive cyclists these days. The lanes round here are perfect for cycling and the wild flowers are wonderful at the moment.

  8. Cathy says:

    Were you cycling around the lanes today in temperatures of -4 degrees, which I heard you had in Suffolk? Hope you had your thermals on 😉 What a huge number of primula you have of different types and colours – it is good to be able to indulge in this way!

    • Chloris says:

      Was it really -4? That must have been overnight. The wind is biting at the moment. We bought new bikes at the end of November and have cycled throughout the winter, 750 miles so far. So we have become quite hardy.

      • Cathy says:

        750 miles – gosh, well done you! Do you always go out together? Minus 4 in Suffolk was specifically mentioned – possibly the coldest place in the UK that night? England certainly. We have missed the cold wind completely here

  9. Kris P says:

    What a variety you have and how wonderful to have primrose growing en masse along the road like that! More clear proof (as if I needed any) of the difference in our climates. I don’t even try to plant them anymore.

    • Chloris says:

      Primroses seem to like our climate and our soil. They are a delight and there is always the chance of something special popping up like the lovely Elizabeth Killelay.

  10. Brian Skeys says:

    I saw some cowslips when traveling in the car near to us that I hadn’t seen before, I must revisit with my camera. I had Quaker’s Bonnet in the garden at one time, sadly they have vanished.

  11. Chloris says:

    Yes the doubles do dwindle away unless you divide them regularly, Do take a photo of the unusual cowslips and post it, I would love to see.

  12. Delightful post! We don’t have primroses growing wild around here. The ones laced in silver or gold are indeed delectable, though I prefer the single blooms.

  13. These flowers are all so pretty, Chloris! And I didn’t realize about the hybrid forms caused by the floral intercourse with cowslips. How interesting.

  14. Cathy says:

    Lovely post – I used to have some of your special ones in the past – all gone! The French don’t seem too keen on these little beauties so they are kind of irreplaceable. At the moment I am fighting a losing battle to stop my true Primula vulgaris brought from my previous garden from hybridising with pinks and whites. I keep lifting them from my mini-woodland if they aren’t the right colour and replanting elsewhere. Perhaps, reading your post, I should just give up!

  15. J’aime ce foisonnement de couleur et de variétés. Un jardin naturel, un peu sauvage où chaque spécialité a sa place. De biens jolies primevères aussi 😉 Belle journée

  16. Pauline says:

    I love all the different varieties of Primrose, some of my cowslips have been misbehaving too! Soon it will be time for all the different candelabra primulas, a rainbow of colour in the garden.

  17. Beautiful primroses, in the garden or along the lane! What a pleasure to see them and hear about their promiscuous ways. They are sold here in droves at the big DIY stores for an early spring annual, especially around Easter, but never last long unless planted under a drippy spigot.

  18. Flighty says:

    Good post and lovely pictures. I especially like the yellow and white varieties. xx

  19. Bodger says:

    Lovely, thank you. Were it not for primroses, I don’t think that I would get out of my winter bed until April, I have very few damp, shaded patches to suit them, so I keep the doubles and hose in hose varieties. Sorry to say that my collection of alpine Primula aurica is out of control.

  20. Cathy says:

    There are cowslips everywhere here at the moment and some found their way into my garden a few years back and have been happily morphing into various shapes and colours ever since! I have never seen oxslips here though. You have got a wonderful variety of them Chloris. You are such a mine of information too. Thanks for sharing it all with us! 🙂

  21. These are splendid Chloris and so different with some spiffing names. I remain rather conservative preferring the native cowslip and primula vulgaris. The Irish bronze are rather interesting.

  22. Anna says:

    Oh I’m so glad that you returned with a such a lovely long and informative post about primroses Chloris. They are such fabulous flowers. I’ve recently picked a few primula vulgaris flowers to press. I’ve not come across primula ‘Strong Beer’ before and will now be on look out for one as a treat for himself 🙂

  23. What a feast for the eyes, every one lovely.

  24. Beautiful. I really like the orange primrose/cowslip cross. It glows wonderfully.

  25. Lavinia Ross says:

    A beautiful collection, Chloris. I didn’t know cowslips and primroses could hybridize.

  26. gardenfancyblog says:

    Chloris, your primroses are amazing! I so have primrose envy when I look at yours — Until this year I’ve never been able to get any of the polyantha that are available for sale here to overwinter, even though they’re supposed to be hardy here. However… I noticed last year that a smooth-leaved Primula Auricula Pubescens made it through several winters and hot summers, so I bought two more last year, and now I actually have several primroses blooming too! (You have no idea how many years I’ve been trying to grow them, and how many dozens I’ve lost.) Your beautiful primroses are inspiring me to try more kinds — thanks for sharing their loveliness with us! Best Regards, -Beth

  27. Hello Chloris,
    just found your nice garden blog. Your primroses look wonderful!
    Maybe you are interested to visit my garden blog? It’s written in German and English. Just that I sometimes struggle with the correct English translation for the plant names. But right now I learned from this post that I translated at least the English translation for the German primrose correctly.
    See here:
    Have a nice day

  28. Peter/Outlaw says:

    A joy of the winter and spring garden. Sometimes I catch them blooming sporadically through the summer as well. Your impressive collection must make you the queen of the primrose path.

  29. Gorgeous, especially love the red polyanthus!

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