Can you guess which spring flower has been voted the best? It's time to plan your spring garden

Can you guess which spring flower has been voted the best? It's time to plan your spring garden

The approach of winter is the very best time to turn your thoughts towards spring. In fact, there's no better season in which to plan your burst of garden joy. Everything you plant in autumn will be preparing to deliver something magical in the near future. During difficult times when people need a positive boost to spirits, the act of planting is excellent therapy.

Many plants that flower in spring come from bulbs planted in the autumn. But there are also some noteworthy perennials that are spring stars too. Which species do you think wins the popularity vote?

Wild primroses are exceptionally hardy

It's primroses, in all their different guises. They nestle at the base of hedgerows and you'll also find them on banks, verges and woodland edges. But what exactly are these cheerful little plants and how do they manage to flower in all weathers, even in snow?

Native perennials

Primroses are native to the UK in their natural form, which is Primula vulgaris. The creamy yellow flowers love damp and shady places such as the banks of rivers and streams and also the woodland edge. Their name, Primula, comes from the Latin primus, meaning first. They survive freezing temperatures by keeping low to the ground. They seem to be able to cope with just about anything – except drying out. These are plants that like humus-rich, damp soil and they are well suited to living under deciduous shrubs and trees. There they can flower whilst the leaves are off the trees and then receive much-needed shade from the foliage later in the year.We love this little plant because the burst of subtle spring colour comes at such a welcome time!

Hybrid varieties now include a rainbow of colours from reds and violet blues through to multicoloured orange with magenta centres and more. Flowers can be densely clustered or patterned with blotches, thus providing bling or simple delight: whichever the owner prefers!

Primula

Where to plant

Choose a location in full sun or part shade during early spring through to late spring. Then be sure to move them to a shady spot during the summer. Ensure they don’t dry out and they will reward you with many weeks and even months of colour, year after year. These plants are not prone to disease and are incredibly easy to care for. They make great pot-fillers and seem capable of fitting into just about any environment.  Primroses now come in all sorts of colours, from white with contrasting yellow centres, through to deepest purple and brightest magenta.

Different types of Primulas

Primroses on stalks

Primulas of the simple kind produce flowers at a low level, held on short stems. The later-flowering cultivated candelabra, drumstick or lollipop types hold their flowers boldly above the foliage on taller stalks. These are called Primula bulleyana (generally orange/yellow), or Primula denticulata (lilac and red). There are also sieboldii hybrids from Japan.  Primulas of the candelabra or drumstick variety generally flower later than the natural, ground-hugging primroses.

Cowslip

Cowslips are a native form of Primula

The native form of Primula also bears flowers on stalks and this is our beautiful cowslip which is correctly known as Primula veris. It flowers slightly later than the native primrose, Primular vulgaris. These plants prefer free-draining compost. They used to flower in profusion in traditional meadows, ancient woodlands and hedgerows. You can still see them in April and May, particularly on grassland and even on motorway verges. You might notice swathes of yellow, nodding flower heads held on simple stalks as you drive past. If you have a chance to smell the flowers, it’s well worth it! They have a scent of apricots which is wonderful.

Oxlips

You could even be lucky enough to spot the rare oxlip. If so, consider yourself very luck as these are now a rare find. These ancient woodland species are very similar to cowslip but appear only in certain areas. Namely the boundaries of Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Primula elatior, as they are correctly known, have flowers which are more open. Their spreading petals are quite different from a bell-shaped cowslip flower.  The colour is a paler yellow too and the centre of the flowers lack the little orange spots that are often found in cowslip flowers.

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Just to add a little confusion, there’s a false oxlip too! This is Primula vulgaris x veris, and as you might guess, it’s a hybrid cross between a primrose and a cowslip. The crossing happens naturally when the two species are growing near to each other. The resulting cross is really rather charming. 

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There are also Primulas that look like mini red-hot-pokers, how amazing is that! Primula vialii have flower spikes topped with lilac flowers which open from red buds. These prefer to be planted in slightly acidic soil but they also love damp locations.

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Planting partners

You can team many other plants with primroses to make a great display. Heucheras are particularly effective and all sorts of spring bulbs including daffodils, hyacinths, muscari and early flowering tulips. Even pansies, Pulmonaria, ivy and mounded evergreen ornamental grasses look great.  

What’s more, you can easily make more plants. Simply divide your primroses once they have finished flowering. Replant into damp soil and they will thrive.

It's really not suprising that primroses, primula and all their associated relatives win the vote for our favourite spring flower. Plant in autumn and prepare for some spring joy.

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