Primroses are delightful spring plants that I have been researching lately. We often see pots of them in stores perhaps beginning in March, when greenhouses begin to warm up from the sun. I have tried planting these outdoors in May, when the weather warms up, but they often don’t come back.

I became aware that there were tougher primroses available when we bought a different house nearly 16 years ago. There were a couple of creamy white primrose plants with yellow centers under a pine tree that began blooming in late winter. Either under the tree or now in quite a bit of sun, I never have to water these plants.

Somewhere in my gardening journey, I acquired a taller primrose with fuchsia pink blossoms in May. A common name for them is candelabra primroses. This plant not only returns faithfully each year, it also produces some seeds, with a few growing into new plants.

A few years ago, a gardening friend gave me some yellow primroses, telling me that they would bloom in the shade. They did bloom but didn’t really thrive in deep shade, so I moved them to a brighter spot last fall and they are already happier. They began blooming in mid-April, about 4 feet tall.

I had tried researching primroses, but couldn’t identify the variety of these tough plants. The standard primrose cultural information stated that rich loamy soil and steady moisture are required for this plant, certainly not true for the primroses I had in my garden.

Finally this month, with a little more time on my hands, I found information on long-lived primroses, on the website of the New York Botanical Garden. This information included the three varieties I have mentioned, providing me with accurate botanical names. I could now buy more of these varieties and search out additional plants with this heritage.

That earliest creamy primrose is called Primula vulgaris, also known as a wild primrose. The pine tree that previously shaded these plants was taken down two years ago, and they are happy getting more sun. This year I divided one of the clumps, and will do the other this fall.

Newer plants that have been bred from this plant include the Belarina series, sold in Moravia pots, which includes at least five colors of long-blooming plants. This is a very short plant, with blossoms just a couple inches off the ground.

Those slightly taller yellow primroses are Primula veris, often called cowslips. Both this plant and the vulgaris plant produce new plants each year by roots, so the clump gets larger. A couple of hybrids developed from this plant include one called Katy McSparron and a larger one sometimes called a giant cowslip.

The taller candelabra or Japanese primroses are fairly common at garden centers in May, in shades of red, pink, white and orange. Their blossoms form layers, similar to this elegant light fixture.

The New York Botanical Garden website also described an additional long-lived primrose, Primula denticulata, commonly called drumstick. It’s is now on my (long) list of plants to buy.

Julie Brocklehurst-Woods has been a Master Gardener Volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Livingston County since 2002. She enjoys helping all gardeners become successful gardeners, especially helping people identify tools and strategies to prioritize and simplify their gardening tasks. She will answer gardening questions by email:

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