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Gardening from Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

October 13, 2002

scprimulaOctober.jpg (55204 bytes)We don’t have the best of all climates in Southern California to grow primula, or primrose. Primula loves cool weather, and does best in moist, cool areas, but we can grow this beautiful little plant in late fall, winter and early spring with a few precautions.

There are several types of primula and the one we most often see is polyanthus, one of the most dwarf types, and the variety we see is Pacific Hybrid Giants Mixture. This jewel like little plant gets about three to six inches tall, has big blooms for such small plant, many two inches across in a vivid range of colors including yellow, lavender blue, pink, rose, red, orange and a white. This is the one we may see as a started plant in the nursery in late winter or early spring. Acaulis is another dwarf that has clusters of flowers in the above colors.

A little taller is malacoides, eight to ten inches tall, in shades and tints of red, white, and rose. Because of its flower habit, malacoides is often labeled as Fairy Primrose. Taller yet is obconica ten to twelve inches tall, with many of the primula colors. There is evidence that obconica can sometimes cause an allergic reaction in some people, so care should be used in handling this plant. The other primula varieties don’t have this problem.

Primula is a little hard to start from seed but it can be done. The seed is small, and should be started in a controlled situation, under plastic or in a small portable greenhouse, to help hold moisture in. Plants can be set out in the garden when at least two true leaves have formed on the plants. Seed is listed in some catalogs—Thompson and Morgan has two pages of varieties—but most catalogs have only one or two, and seed racks may have either acaulis or Pacific Hybrid Giants.

Good nurseries and garden centers may have started plants late in the winter or in early spring, and they should be set in when you find them.

Primula likes lots of sun, a moist condition and plenty of cool weather. In warm inland valleys a little shade helps to prolong the growth and bloom of the plants. I have some on a north facing exposure and they get only a few hours of sun in early morning and late evening, but have done fairly well. Along the coast they will do best in full sun.

Despite the difficulties of finding the right spot for them, all of the primula varieties are worth trying for a different look in the winter flowerbed.

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