Primulas of 2017: Small European Alpines

These are species and hybrids from within the same Primula section as Primula auricula. Many of the hybrids have some auricula heritage but are smaller than garden aurculas and may show a greater resemblance to other parents.

A couple of old, but new-to-me, Primula marginatas, Linda Pope (a hybrid) and Barbara Clough (species).



John Richards, in Primula, describes ‘Snow Cap’ as a white-flowered hybrid of Primula hirsuta and Primula allionii. I assume this plant, sold as ‘Snowcap’ is the same one. The pink-flowered plant, with the wrong label, is likely also a hybrid with Primula hirsuta. Does it matter? Maybe not a lot. If I knew they were both P allionii hybrids, I might try crossing them. If I knew the pink one had some P marginata in it, I would cross it with a P marginata.



Primula villosa, bought in 2011. Around the same time, I also acquired plants of P latifolia, P hirsuta, and P x forsteri. All had three or four good years in the garden but lately have been dwindling, and only small pieces remain. I don’t know why this should be — whether these plants typically do not live long as garden plants, or whether the conditions here don’t suit them well. I could move them into pots and ‘baby’ them, but they might like that even less.

Primula villosa


The above are all purchased plants. The following are grown from seed, except little Primula x pubescens ‘Cream Viscosa,’ shown here as a possible pollen parent for the pink-flowered seedling. The seed parent is the slightly pinkish pale yellow garden auricula (pictured with leaves of nearby Primula marginata x ‘Herb Dickson’), a much larger plant than the other two. The bright pink comes from Primula hirsuta, one of the parents in a Primula x pubescens cross and also present in the make-up of most (if not all?) garden auriculas. I was impressed by this seedling, a very big little plant in its first blooming year, while its siblings did not bloom at all.



Previously on the blog I have shown plants from seed out of a poor hybrid sold as Primula carniolica. Here are another four. The insipid yellow has even less colour than the colourless seed parent.



Plants from seed acquired through the American Primrose Society seed exchange, and pods full of seed to send back to the exchange. (Go here now to join the APS!) The plants have named cultivar parents. The blue comes from ‘Wharfedale Village,’ which appears to have some P marginata in it, and the pinks are from ‘Peardrop,’ a P allioniii hybrid.



This is a Primula glaucescens seedling at the end of July. Sometimes a new seedling that is too small to bloom in the spring will have its first flowering in the fall. Here, I thought the new, pinkish growth was a sign the plant was producing flower buds. I saw similar growth on P glaucescens’ near relations P spectabilis and P clusiana. None of them went on to bloom, however, and the new growth disappeared. The pinkish leaves/buds didn’t die — they disappeared. Maybe cooler weather caused the plants to abort the mission. Or maybe — is this possible? — the plants produced next year’s flower buds above ground and then drew them down below the surface for protection over winter.



To close, one of 2017’s new seedlings out of Primula marginata ‘Herb Dickson.’ Is it this blue in real life? Not quite. The camera sees more blue than it should. But of several seedlings grown from seed out of ‘Herb Dickson,’ this is the best blue yet.  It will be interesting to see what it does this year when it is a bigger plant.

Seedling ex Primula marginata ‘Herb Dickson’



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Auriculas of 2017, Part 3, Best of the Rest



Enjoy the pictures. Not much to say about these. Some old, familiar favourites first, and then a few new stand-outs. All from seed.



The yellow — my first auricula — is the seed parent of the pale grey-blue. The pollen parent, if I had to guess? In recent years, I have pollinated the yellow only with other yellows that also resemble the species, Primula auricula. But at the time this cross was made, I was using pollen from a few plants growing in the same garden, including the Primula marginata hybrid ‘Herb Dickson” (of which many pictures are already posted here; type ‘Herb Dickson’ in the search bar).


When it comes time to pollinate this grey-blue pin next year, I will use other light blues, including seedlings out of ‘Herb Dickson’ such as the two below, and the very pale, so pale it’s nearly white, Primula marginata ‘Alba’ from Barnhaven.



This final group are all first-time bloomers. The yellow is a species auricula. I can’t see its full name — Primula auricula subspecies something — and as I write the tag is still under snow. The purple is from seed out of a flower that also has a thin, dark ring around the eye. Now there are two, a thrum and a pin, they can be crossed and perhaps will produce a line of ring-eyed auriculas.



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Primrose Fields



From its beginning, this blog has had a sort of place-holder name, “The Plants I Grow.” Over the years, more and more of the garden has been converted to primrose fields — mainly auricula fields. “Trial beds” might be a more accurate designation. There are now six: #1 Auricula Field, #2 Auricula Field…. They need better names, too. There is also Blue Slope (auriculas), Base Camp (auriculas), and Raspberry Field (polyanthus, acaulis and juliana primroses and a few raspberry canes).


The auricula fields are not larger than 1 m x 2 m, and the smaller ones are maybe half that size. They are a little higher than the adjacent paths. This is achieved by lowering the paths or raising the beds, or sometimes by doing both — taking up 2-3 cm of soil from the path, mixing it with grit, sand, and garden compost or manure, and spreading this over the field. Every year, in the fall, the plants are top-dressed with a mix of grit and garden compost, which raises the height a little more.

In #1 and #2 Auricula Fields, the seedlings were planted 15-20 cm apart. In the later fields, they are 10-12 cm apart. I have not yet had to face what to do when the seedlings are too large for their 10×10 cm plots. This year (let’s say spring does come), #5 Auricula Field and the #2 Auricula Field Annex are going to be crowded.

This spring, plants that need protection from rain will be moved into #2 Auricula Field, which is easily covered, and plants that don’t need the protection will be moved out. The brightly coloured flowers in the foreground of the second picture below are not auriculas but small European alpine hyprids — plants that may have some auricula in them, but are smaller and show more of their Primula marginata, hirsuta, allionii (etc.) heritage. Time they were moved into their own field.


A lone, early bloomer in #6 Auricula Field, planted cemetery-style.


Many of the plants in #2 Auricula Field have had three flowering years. This one has never produced more than two flowers. How many more chances can it have? If it doesn’t put up a truss of five or six pips this spring, is it bound for the cull?


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Auriculas of 2017, Part 2, Plants from Named Cultivars

These are seedlings whose parents and/or grandparents were named auriculas. They are not, themselves, worthy of a place on the show bench (with maybe an exception or two?) — and there is no show bench for them anyway, apart from my picnic table — but they are, variously, fun, curious, fascinating, thrilling garden plants.

Striped. Of these, the pale pink flower has the best form. It could use a little more colour. Are the red and the bright pink the same plant in different lights? I think so. The brown does what you want a stripe to do in the garden, make a big noise.



Striped with something of an edge. The pin-eyed pink flower may look like it should be thrown away. I see a plant that comes from good striped parents; that is easy to pollinate; and that when pollinated with a good stripe, is capable of producing good stripes. I may be wrong. It will stay until I need the space for a better plant. The yellow and orange is not a vigorous plant. I might try it in a different spot, if it comes back this spring. The red is out of Fleet Street, and there is a definite resemblance. Fleet Street, though, is much better. This one is still a small seedling, flowering for the first time, and could improve when bigger and stronger.



Edged. The single flower is out of Marmion. It should be better next year (this year). The other green edge is a seedling flowering for the first time, and I’m as happy with it as I would be with a named cultivar I’d dropped $20 on. The eye (or mouth, or throat? — the yellow bit in the middle) does gape in some of the green-edged varieties, a characteristic that wouldn’t be acceptable in another type of auricula, such as a self or a stripe. I have to stop myself sometimes from looking for defects, and remember to see the plants for what they are,  not to see only the multiple causes of their failure to win Best in Show in an  imaginary competition. The body section of the grey-edged flower is too narrow/the edge section is too wide; the brown body section is speckled with farina; the farina is too thin on the grey edge; there are a few small petals and the odd double-pointed petal — reject! No, look at the thick white wire around the petals. Superb. Wheel out the trophy!



Red selfs. Three plants here. The one with a bit more orange to it has Scorcher for a parent. Its paste thins at the edge, but it is a great, vigorous garden plant, a real little cabbage.


Comparing your plants against the prize-winning named cultivars is part of the fun of raising auriculas from seed. It would be wrong not to compare — show-worthy plants are what the breeders hoped to create when they made the crosses that produced the seed. And the standards are what they are because new seedlings that meet the standards are sure to be exceptionally beautiful, as well as extremely rare.



So how about these two?


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Auriculas of 2017, Part 1, Named Cultivars


Straight into the good stuff. Show self auriculas April Moon (yellow) and Taffeta (pink) and border auriculas Eden David (bright pink) and Kate Haywood (pale yellow).



The two border auriculas are in the ground and the two selfs are in large containers. In both situations, but especially in containers, auriculas like to sit on a bit of a slope. In a large container such as an alpine trough or an antique washtub that stays outdoors over winter, the soil should fill the container to the top of the rim. If the soil level is below the rim, water will sit on the soil in spring, while the bottom of the container is still frozen and unable to drain. More dangerous: during mild spells in winter, the top few centimetres of soil may become waterlogged by melted snow, and then freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw. Auriculas will rot in these conditions.

Auriculas should be planted on a mound sloping from the centre to the edges. Rocks, bricks, chunks of cement, pieces of broken ceramic pots or dishes can be used to support and stabilize the mound. It doesn’t have to be a huge elaborate hill, but a hill offers more planting area. The auriculas can then be placed where their crowns are higher than the rim of the container.

Or — use a container that has openings up the sides, something like a milk crate or recycling blue box. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. It will have autumn leaves heaped around it and snow piled on top, and the plants can be moved into prettier pots in the spring.


Next, the border auricula Starling, and semi-double auricula Country Maid.


I put these two together because both have a light dusting of farina across the petals (visible in the earlier photo of Country Maid, where it is more white than pink). For this reason, and because they were in bloom at the same time, I pollinated a flower from Starling with pollen from Country Maid. I also pollinated Starling with red selfs and a blue border. I am looking forward to seeing the flowers those seeds produce in two or three years. I expect some nice plants and likely also a few interesting (strange, circus-freakish) ones.

Why is Country Maid not a double, only a semi-double, when it clearly has twice the usual number of petals? Double auriculas can have 20 times the usual number of petals, and you certainly won’t see any anthers poking up with pollen for your paintbrush. It must take a very determined breeder to find any pollen in a double auricula.


A final four: alpine auricula Dilly Dilly, green-edged fancy auricula Parakeet, striped auriculas Blush Baby (red) and Night and Day (blue).



Parakeet was my first named auricula, a surprise find at a local garden centre several year ago. When I got it home, I found it full of botrytis (furry grey mould), the main plant crowded with little offsets and no space for air to get around. A couple of those offsets eventually grew big enough to flower, but not every year and never very well. Like many commercially available auriculas, Parakeet would rather produce more offsets than flowers. For nurseryfolk who want to propagate more plants to sell, prolific offsetters are a boon. For gardeners who want lots of flowers, excess offsets are competition for the plant’s energy and are best removed while they are still small. Anyhow, eventually — by this time I had more and better auriculas — I stuck the last two pieces of Parakeet in the ground and forgot about them. This year one of them bloomed better than I had ever seen. Maybe it’s in the right place, at last. I pulled off lots of little offsets to give it the best chance to bloom again next year.

I had admired Night and Day in pictures, in books and online, for years.  It’s got that kind of white powder that turns thrill-seekers into addicts. When I was offered a piece, I couldn’t quite believe it. Maybe there was another Night and Day — a dark self with a wide white paste, or a dark blue alpine with a sunny yellow centre. Its first spring, it produced a flowering stem that was badly bent over and split where it was creased. I thought it might dry up and die, or break, or collapse. But it bloomed, and the blooms grew bigger and bluer, and I was face to face with that magnificent plant, live and in person. There are now two good offsets in the basement, in case anything happens to the plant outdoors in a recycling blue box packed around with leaves and, still, covered with snow.

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