Take the beautiful primrose path …

For me, the primrose is the dainty star that steals the spring time flower show. Their leaves, forming green rosettes, hug the soil as their little yellow eyes reach for the spring sunshine. There are over 600 varieties of primrose, botanical name primula, which come in every color except green.

Most primulas are grown in their little clay pots which is small scale gardening at its best. Primula lovers can relate to the little plant, pick it up and enjoy the little primrose up close.

The primrose is an ancient plant. The genus primula comes from the Latin word primus for ?first?. The common name primrose comes from the Italian, prima rosa, for first rose and symbolizes early youth. The hybrid auricula is a manmade hybrid, derived from the cross fertilization of the alpine plants, primula auricula and primula hirsute. These hybrids were brought to England by Flemish weavers in the 1580s. By the 1700s it had become a favorite of growers who liked to display these little plants at an annual Auricula Feast. Grand auricula theaters would display up to 300 plants on painted shelves.

By the 1800s, the Victorians hybridized the flowers to make hundreds of new cultivars. The Victorians were avid gardeners and primroses were grown and loved by one and all. Queen Victoria sent homegrown primroses to fellow primrose lover Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister of Great Britain. Upon his death, she ordered a primrose wreath to be sent to his grave.

There are some things to keep in mind when growing the auricula in containers. They do best if pot bound so keep mature plants in 4 inch pots. Past its prime at four years of age, remove the little plantlets coming off the main stem and pot up the new little plants. Always plant in well drained potting soil and do not over water. Terracotta pots help to keep the little plants at the proper moisture level because the clay absorbs any excess moisture.

The alpine auriculas or garden (border) auriculas can be grown outdoors as well as in pots. Here in Northwestern Pennsylvania one of our cool, moist summers may allow the little plants to get established in our shady borders. To acquire primrose to grow in the garden it is necessary to order them from specialty mail order catalogs. The little plants in the grocery store and big box stores will not survive our winters.

Two primroses that may survive our winter are primula vulgaris and primula veris, the common name cowslip. In the garden, primroses require rich soil, adequate moisture and shady conditions. Cultivating these little beauties in the garden is a challenge because they do not like the heat of summer.

I love the primrose and I never pass up the display at the grocery store or the garden center. I have grouped them under the Easter egg tree on the dining room table, filling in the spaces between the pots with sphagnum moss from the florist or grouping them on a window sill. They make a prefect hostess gift or a welcome to the neighborhood gift.

I used to plant them outside as they finish blooming but I have never been successful bringing the grocery store variety through the winter. Luckily the primrose is an economical little early spring pick me up. It gives us all hope that we have come through into our beautiful springtime.