The word “primrose” is from the medieval Latin prima rosa, literally the “first rose”. Perhaps it was a time when “rose” was used in a more general way. We all know that a primrose is not a rose not even by any other name, but we certainly think of it as an early spring flower. The primroses of European origin do succeed in gardens in the southeast if they are either strains that were developed for garden performance (as opposed to pot culture) such as the excellent Belarina series or old-garden pass-along plants that have stood the test of time, such as Primula ‘Dale Henderson’.

From the other side of the globe come two species of woodland primroses which deserve to be more widely grown because they are showy, easy and reliable in a lightly shaded garden with soil of moderate moisture level: not soggy or parched. They are Primula sieboldii and Primula kisoana. Unlike their European kin they are summer dormant: gracefully, quietly, exiting the scene not to return until the following winter. This seems preferable to the common primrose, the cowslips and the oxlips of Europe which grumble through the summer months, (Though I do have to acknowledge that these Europeans freshen up come fall with a whole new flush of foliage. Which is the perfect time to divide them.)

Primula sieboldii ‘Oasahi’

The foliage of Primula sieboldii and P. kisoana is quite beautiful unto itself. They have a gently spreading habit. And their summer dormancy means they can sublet a spot in the garden occupied by a large, late to arise, winter dormant/summer growing resident. There are many cultivars of Primula sieboldii ranging from pure white through dark pink. The fringed petals give a snowflake appearance to the flowers. They are typically in bloom here (NC) starting in early April.

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