Magical fairy primrose

Article originally published by: Kiwi Gardener

Uncover the virtues of a firm favourite winter and spring flower, the fairy primrose.

What is it about fairies that make you think of magic and all things good? It probably stemmed from the fairytales we grew up on, where anything touched by the wand or fingers of woodland fairies turned into something good and special. The fairies I remember often lived at the bottom of the garden, in the shade of trees and shrubs, which happens to be exactly where Primula malacoides – the fairy primrose – likes to reside.
Intersperse with parsley to add interest.

Over the coldest months, only a few flowers stand out as hardy campaigners, and often the go-to stalwarts include pansies, polyanthus, flowering kale, and primulas. Another worthy addition to the list is the fairy primrose, which reliably brightens up any shady area during the winter months. This plant forms neat mounds, the leaves are a pretty almost lime-green, and from the foliage spring multiple stems of flowers for months on end. In my garden, I often have them in flower from July through to November.

The flower colours vary from pure white, which is a favourite for injecting light to dark or shady areas throughout winter, through to rich magenta and cerise tones. Because so many stems of flowers are produced, the plant is rarely without flower. They do self-seed if allowed to do so, with the seeds sitting quietly over the summer, and new plants appearing in autumn as soon as the soil cools. However, rather than relying on this to happen each year, I opt to invest in ready-grown seedlings and plant them at staggered intervals throughout May, June, and July, to ensure an extended period of flowers.

Fairy primrose makes an ideal indoor plant, especially throughout winter and early spring, when most other flowering house plants are sitting still. These plants are cheap to grow, with a punnet of six seedlings costing less than a decent coffee and providing flowers for at least three months.

In the wild, they are found in marginal wet areas where the soil is constantly moist, and in spots tucked away from the harsh rays of the midday sun. While they will grow in sun, the shady side of the house is their preference. Don’t let the plants dry out; they will thrive in a moist, rich soil, and don’t require a lot of fertiliser.

If contrast appeals to you, mix and match different colours.

Pot life

They flourish in pots, tubs, window boxes and hanging baskets. If you are growing them in pots, invest in some decent potting mix to get the most out of them, and be sure you don’t let the pots dry out.

Planting ideas

The more you plant the better, especially if you like a real drift of colour, as a display of dozens will make for an impressive winter-time feature.

Because they have a shallow root system, they are ideal to use under large trees where soil is often shallow. Last year I saw white fairy primroses planted in with parsley over a fairly large area; they looked particularly gorgeous in contrast with the bright green foliage of the herbs. It is also good to know that these plants are hardy to frost and can therefore be planted throughout the country.

What you need to know

When to sow
Sow seeds in autumn.

When to plant
All regions: autumn, winter and spring.

Where to plant
Part shade to full shade. Avoid all day sun.

Plant spacing

Where to buy
Mitre 10 and Mitre 10 MEGA garden centres, nurseries and online nurseries.