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Gardening from Southern California

...Cineraria and primula
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

January 25, 2004

Cineraria and primula are a couple of flowers that must be planted for winter and spring bloom in Southern California. Neither tolerates heat and in inland areas they’ll be gone by the time April and May weather come along. I have carried some primula plants along, with minimal success, on a north flower bed, but they really need more light than that and more sunshine. Farther north, in the Bay area they’re a delightful addition to the flower garden in late spring and summer, and they do well along the coast and Central Coast up until summer heat becomes too much for them.

A good indication of this is their listings in catalogs—Burpee lists one primula, Park lists one, but Thompson and Morgan, with their roots in England, lists two cinerarias, and two pages of primula.

But you will find them, maybe only one variety of each, as started plants in some better nurseries this spring, and if you do, and it isn’t any later than February-March, plant them in the flower garden, in a spot that’s mostly shade but gets good light, and enjoy the beauty of these exceptional little flowers.

There are many varieties of primula—often listed as primrose—but far less of cineraria. Both are very easy to grow, east to set in as transplants, a little harder if you start from seed, which must be done in September-October.

One series of primula, the Pacific Hybrids were developed in northern California and they do well here in the winter. Names to look for are Primula Polyanthus Large Flowered Mix and Primula Jewel Mix. These varieties are low, bedding types of plants, getting only about six to ten inches tall, and completely covered with blooms clustered at the top in colors and bicolors that include scarlet, blue, bronze, yellow, pink, violet and rose.

Among the named cinerarias are Dwarf Beauty Mix, Jester Series which includes scarlet through pink, blue and carmine; and Multiflora Nana, a compact variety. You may not find any of these names of either primula or cineraria as started plants, and probably will simply find them labeled primula polyanthus and cineraria.

But if you do find them, try them, since they’re something different in the winter garden and well worth the effort. And while they probably won’t live over the summer you’ll have the pleasure of their beauty this winter.


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