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Gardening From Southern California

...Primula and Cineraria
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 14, 2007

Two winter flowers not used as much at they deserve are primula and cineraria. While some climates can grow them in summer, especially along the coast where days are cool, the atmosphere is moist, and sunlight is adequate even when mornings are foggy, for those of us inland in Southern California, winter is the time when they excel.

Too late now to start from seed, but good nurseries and garden centers will have started plants of both in four inch pots, sometimes in six inch, and once in awhile in six packs. The four inch pots are more expensive than six packs but will do better planted this month, since they will already be blooming and with that head start they’ll beautify your winter flower garden for several months.

A number of flowers have cineraria in their names, but the one we’re talking about here is Senecio hybridus, the common cineraria with its daisy-like flowers in bold colors and dwarf plant habit. Colors include white, various shades of pink, some purples, some blues and some purplish-red with contrasting eyes and bands of color. Most of the dwarf kinds get around 10 to 15 inches tall, and there is a tall kind called stellata, but we seldom see it offered anymore.

Cineraria isn’t frost or freezing tolerant, but it will withstand cold down to just above frost, and grows best where it gets some sun, some shade in the spring, and in good soil. The dwarf plants are covered with blooms all winter long and up until warm weather arrives in spring. Along the coast cineraria will flower all summer long from a spring planting.

Primula, or primrose, is a big family of plants, some 600 species or more, but only a couple are good garden subjects for this climate. Primula acaulis and Primula polyantha are the ones we grow, and polyantha is probably the easiest to find as a started plant. Primula acaulis, sometimes listed as vulgaris, has single flowers on fairly long stems, several to a stalk and can have colors of white, red, blue, bronze, brown, and yellow. A little more attractive in the garden, and more often found as a started plant, is primula polyantha, the one most often referred to as English Primrose. It has green leaves in clumps, and flowers in clusters, an inch and more across, and a wide range of colors.

Both cineraria and primula make good edgings, good massed plantings, and do well in containers. Although both are usually listed as perennials, they are strictly annuals in hot spring and summer climates, and will not usually last over except in coastal gardens.

Both need good garden soils to prosper, and need plenty of water, but don’t like the soil to be soggy. Feed the started plants regularly with a balanced fertilizer, and then hold off after plants are in full bloom at maturity. Partial shade is best inland, full sun is best along the coast.

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