Primrose – Primula: Is it a Perennial or an Annual?


My first Primroses were the old fashioned Cowslips that were given to me by my husband’s Mother back in 1957. She had planted a full border all the way around her back yard and when they bloomed in spring, her yard became a wonderland. I’ve put a lot of effort into locating these hardy Primrose again for I didn’t get mine divided like I should have and they have dwindled. They are impossible to find and are superior to any of the other Primrose on the market today. I’m glad to be fortunate enough to still have one nice patch of them after 50 or so years but have been unwilling to divide them and share.

I discovered a Primula auricular with a hardiness of a zone-2 and it had received the Royal Horticulture Society Award of Garden Merit so I purchased a full flat feeling certain I had finally found our Mom’s old fashioned Cowslip primrose. I planted it in cool shade with regular moisture but they never made it into the second year. I still couldn’t give up for so many of my gardening friends have admired mine and begged for a start.

Other Primrose I’ve tried are the Primula denticulate, Ronsdorf strain or Drumstick Primula. These are advertised as a zone-3 so I was hoping they would perform, but they are not the hardy Cowslip Primrose. The majority of these bloomed in a washed out lavender color and all have gradually died. I found another Primula japonica advertised as a zone-four and thought I would give it a try. Japonica supposedly blooms with lovely red-toned, candelabra-type flowers. I wouldn’t know, they never bloomed and never returned after the first winter.

Every gardener needs to know that the Primula polyanthus or ‘Pacific Giants Mix’ are really annuals. Gardeners buy them because gardeners are in a weakened, flower-deprived state right after the drabness of winter and are not able to resist their many bright blooming colors just waiting to go home with the color-starved gardener.

I’m frustrated for I’m reputed to have a green thumb but these will not grow for me. My question is? What keeps happening to the long-lived old fashioned perennials of yesteryear? Is there a conspiracy among growers to only breed plants that may or may not live over a western winter so the gardener has to replace them the next spring? It has to be a conspiracy!

Dividing Primrose Plants

In the video below, George Lasch shows how to divide primroses when the clumps get crowded and blooming slows. You’ll also get a short lesson on the anatomy of a rhizome and how to turn one clump into dozens of new primrose plants.

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