Down the Primrose Path

“Down the primrose path”

In Shakespeare’s time a path strewn with primroses was a common metaphor. It means to lead someone down the primrose path, is to deceive them into thinking that things are easier than they actually are.

The flowers of the primrose are definitely a sign that spring has arrived. They are woodland flowers that like the cool, dappled shade provided by woodlands and hedgerows. Primroses even have their own special day, 19 April – the anniversary of the death of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1891. Primroses were his favourite flower and to this day a posy of primroses is laid at Disraeli statue by Westminster abbey every year.

Primroses and polyanthus are part of the Primula genus. You can tell the difference not only by the colour but also by the fact that polyanthus flowers stand proud of the leaves on a single stem. Primrose flowers are carried on the short stems at the base of the plant surrounded by leaves.

Primroses were among the first flowers ever to be grown for the garden, as far back as medieval times. They were grown along with cowslips, verbascums and mallows between the cabbages and onions.   With the introduction of the pink primrose from Turkey known as “Turkie Purple” back in the 17th century, breeders began to experiment crossing this pink primrose with the cowslip, resulting in our much loved and colourful polyanthus.

I can remember picking primrose flowers to decorate the local church for many years until of course the practice of picking wild flowers became illegal. Luckily it’s not too difficult to grow them from seed – so I can still pick them from my own garden.   They will grow on just about any soil as long as they have plenty of moisture and a bit of shade, but they do like good drainage.

Pretty red and yellow Polyanthus

Pretty red and yellow Polyanthus

Although primroses and polyanthus are spring flowering, they will also flower intermittently during mild spells in winter. To create a lovely spring display plant up a pot with Polyanthus and include some low growing evergreens such as Ivy, Skimmia and euonymus; underplant with Narcissus and crocus. If you are too late to plant bulbs, add some Forget-me-nots Myosotis sylvatica as a contrast. Position the pot next to the house and you will have something bright and cheery to look at even on the dullest day.


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Designer Gardens is a creative company offering you fantastic ideas and expertise on designing and constructing a beautiful garden, on planting plans, plant management, and related consultation and advice. With many, many gardens to my name, I can create the garden that you dream of.
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