The word Primula comes from the Latin, meaning 'first' referring to the fact that this plant tends to flower early in the season and one of the joys of walking down a country lane in spring is the sight of this dainty, buttermilk coloured and utterly enchanting flower.
These pretty wildflowers belong to the genus 'primula' which contains approx 500 members and can be found in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. Hardy and tolerant of a wide range of conditions they are happiest in humus-rich well drained soil. An ideal location would be on a slope under trees as hot dry conditions in summer or waterlogged frozen foliage in winter will punish these plants.
Having said that they will quite happily seed themselves into every nook and cranny in the garden. Everyone immediately recognises Primula Vulgaris with its dainty lemony flowers but not many know that the young leaves and flowers are edible and can be used in salads, cooked or candied.
In damper areas of the garden the candelabra primroses grow well and will produce flowers that range from orange/yellow through to dark pink/purple. This species is especially effective planted en masse in large dramatic groups. There are also pagoda and orchid primroses which, uncharacteristically, are late bloomers and can reach heights of 50cm.
The dark secret of the primrose family is Primula Obonica - the poison primrose. Deceptively pretty with flowers of varying colours this little gem can cause skin irritation and is toxic to cats and dogs - this aside it really is a beautiful spring house plant when treated with care!
To keep primroses at their best, growing well and flowering, it is advisable to lift and divide them every two or three years. They also benefit from a feed of a weak solution of high potash tomato fertiliser.