Question – what is bright and colourful and flowering in a garden near you now? The answer is a primrose – or could it be a polyanthus? Seeing these bold flowers unfurl is one of the first signs that spring is well and truly with us. These charming, pretty plants can always be relied on to flower at this time of year, a much needed reminder that the worse of the winter is (hopefully) behind us.
So what’s the difference between a primrose and a polyanthus?
Well, not a great deal to be honest, they are both in the Primula family; the primrose (Primula vulgaris) is the delicate yellow flower which can be found growing wild in woodland and on grassy banks. Whereas the polyanthus is Primula elatior. Without getting into more plant biology than is necessary, the poly (as it is affectionately known by florists and gardeners alike) is believed to be a cross between the primrose and another common wild flower, the cowslip. Simple really!
The name primula is from the Latin ‘primus’ which means first, a reference to the fact that these are often the first flowers to appear in spring. There are about 400 species worldwide, and although the name sounds quite modern, it’s been in use since the 1670’s. Some very early varieties can still be found growing in gardens. Polyanthus Gold Lace is an unusual golden-eyed flower with black petals, which dates back to the 1780’s and is a particular favourite with bees and butterflies.
Growing polyanthus in the garden
Whether you choose a poly or a primula they are perfect for cheering up a space, inside or out. If planting them in the garden, they like soil to be moist, but with good drainage. Don’t over water them and protect them from the harsher winter winds which can quickly dry them out. Remove any yellowing leaves and deadhead the flowers as they fade and there is no reason why they shouldn’t naturalise and come back year after year.
As an alternative to planting directly into the soil, make up a spring planter with polyanthus, miniature daffodils and hyacinth bulbs. Not only will you have a scented and colourful display, but after flowering if you move the container somewhere sheltered and leave it untouched, it should all shoot again the following year.
Bring some colour inside
Make the most of the vibrant hues of polys inside your home by planting them into brightly coloured containers; add some coloured twine or beading to give them an extra zing. If you use a pot without drainage holes, put some broken crockery or polystyrene in the bottom and make sure you don’t over water. Display them somewhere cool out of direct heat sources. Once they have finished flowering indoors, they can be planted outside ready for next year.
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