Primulas are a sight for sore eyes in spring, arriving in a rainbow of colours to add pizzazz to patios and perk up beds and borders.

These cheerful bedding plants offer great value, flowering their hearts out for weeks returning in subsequent years and self-seeding to give you more plants for your money.

Plant them in damp soil in a shady spot and let them do their thing. They cross pollinate and multiply, so you may get a mix of colours over the years.

So, what do you need to know?

1. Primroses are classed as primulas

Adam Pasco/HTA
Adam Pasco/HTA


What’s the difference? Well, some have short stems, some have long stems, some have lollypop flowers and others look like wildflowers. If you think you know your primulas from your primroses, cowslips, auriculas and polyanthus, think again. They’re actually all classed as primulas.

Hybrid polyanthus produce the brightly coloured plants that are common in garden centres at this time of year, while the common native primulas, Primula vulgaris, have yellow blooms and are found in hedgerows in the countryside. Most need the same care.

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2 Cross breeding has widened the choice

Polyanthus were a result of crossing primroses and cowslips. They have multiple large flowers on a long stem in a far wider range of colours than primroses, including reds, mauves, purples and pinks. Bold blocks of primulas always look striking, but impressive displays can also be created by combining them with other spring bedding.

3. Birds can be a major pest

Cheeky sparrows and other birds sometimes peck at primroses, damaging their blooms. It’s hard to stop these antics, especially with plants growing in borders, but try moving pots closer to the house to scare them away. Some people have noted that blue varieties often avoid their attentions.

4. Not all primulas just flower in spring

Primula beesiana. (The Farplants Group/HTA)
Primula beesiana. (The Farplants Group/HTA)


If you put them in a damp, shady spot, some candelabra primulas, which have lollipop shaped clusters of flowers, will bloom through to early summer. These are ideal for the bog garden. New varieties are continually being bred offering outstanding garden performance, larger flowers and better resistance to the vagaries of our weather. Top candelabra primulas for summer colour include the Japanese candelabra primula (P. japonica), the Chinese primula (P. beesiana and the orange Bulley’s primula (P. bulleyana).

5: Primulas go well with bedding daisies and daffs in pots

Primulas in mixed plantings. (Thinkstock)
Primulas in mixed plantings. (Thinkstock)


Planting in pots? Pair them with bedding daisies, daffodils, hyacinths, pansies and violas, stocks and sweet Williams for a stunning display.