Primulas – The Plant Lover’s Guide

Our beautiful native pale yellow primroses announce, “Spring is here” more effectively than any other plant. It is no wonder we love them and delight in seeing them each year. They have a simple beauty which endears them to young and old, to gardener and non-gardener alike.

Primula vulgaris (1)
Our native primrose, Primula vulgaris 

Beyond the native species of our own country and others there are innumerable cultivars, bred by enthusiastic individuals and by dedicated nurseries,  which now grace our gardens.  Barnhaven Primroses is one such nursery and it enjoys not only a reputation for excellence but is also held in warm regard by those who love to grow these obliging and beautiful plants.

Lynne Lawson and her daughter, Jodie Mitchell, are the present forces behind Barnhaven Primroses. Twenty years ago Lynne moved from the U.K. to Brittany and, by chance, settled within a mile of the Barnhaven Primroses Nursery which had been established there shortly before.  Some years later she, with her husband, took over the nursery and Jodie later joined her there in running the business.

Barnhaven Nursery was begun in Oregon in the 1930s by an out of work pianist named Florence Bellis. She was the first to engage in the hand pollinating of primulas on a commercial basis and produced new strains, introduced new colours – the first true blues and pinks – and transformed the world of primroses in the process. On her retirement in 1966 she passed her stock plants to customers of hers, the Sinclair family, who lived in the Lake District of England and Barnhaven Primulas were based there before moving to Brittany in 1990 under the care of Angela Bradford. David and Lynne Lawson continued the Barnhaven story from 2000 onwards and their daughter, Jodie Mitchell, and family have now joined them in the work.

Primula 'Kinlough Beauty' (1)
Primula ‘Kinlough Beauty’ which originated in Kinlough, Co. Leitrim, Ireland
Primula 'Guinivere'
Primula ‘Guinevere, a very old Irish variety

Mother and daughter, Lynne and Jodie, have co-written this book. It is one of the “Plant Lover’s Guides” series – an outstanding series – from Timber Press and follows the follows the same layout as the others: “Why We Love Primulas”, “Designing with Primulas”, “Understanding Primulas”, “100 Primulas for the Garden” and “Growing and Propagating”.

Without making a song and dance about it – though the book deserves fanfare, drum roll and wild unbridled dance – this is an excellent book to be commended without reservation. It will appeal to all lovers of primulas from beginner to enthusiast, accessible to the former yet interesting and useful to the latter. If primroses are your interest this book will delight you and, if not, this book will convince you that they should be.

Primula 'Dark Rosaleen' 20100412
Primula ‘Dark Rosaleen’ – from Irish primula breeder, Joe Kennedy. 

As a final word, I was delighted to see some Irish primulas included in the book: ‘Kinlough Beauty’, ‘Lady Greer’, ‘Guinevere’, ‘Dark Rosaleen’ and ‘Innisfree’ among others and to see a photograph of them growing so well in Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden. We have perfect conditions here in Ireland for growing primroses and this would be an excellent handbook to those who wish to grow them.

Primula 'Dawn Ansell'
Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’ a “Jack in the Green” primula – the flower is surrounded by a ruff of green leaves – raised by Cecil Jones in Wales in the 1960s
Primula 'Dawn Ansell' (1)
Typical of many of these primroses, Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’ is a wonderfully easy plant to grow in the garden and can be divided regularly to increase numbers.

[The Plant Lover’s Guide to Primulas, Jodie Mitchell and Lynne Lawson, Timber Press, Oregon, 2016, HB, 246 pages, £17.99, ISBN: 978-1-60469-645-5]

Paddy Tobin

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5 thoughts on “Primulas – The Plant Lover’s Guide

  1. Really enjoyed reading about some of my favourite plants and even bought the excellent guide mentioned!!
    We spend a lot of time in Ireland (Wexford) and I wonder whether there are specialist nurseries where traditional Irish varieties are available? Maybe you are not allowed to comment on individual places up I would welcome your comments as I will be there for the next four weeks.
    Your blog is very refreshing to read … keep up the good work!

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    • Hi Angela, Lovely to hear from you and many thanks for your kind comments. Re primulas: Pat Fitzgerald, of Fitzgerald Nuseries, Co. Kilkenny, released a wonderful range of Irish primulas in recent years – bred by Joe Kennedy in Northern Ireland. Johnstown Garden Centre in Naas – very easily accessed from the N7 as you approach Dublin – are probably the best stockists of this selection. Then there is Peninsula Primulas in Northern Ireland which always has a great selection – though not so much of the older varieties. You might not want to travel to Northern Ireland to them but you would probably meet them and other nurseries at events of the Irish Specialist Nursery Association. Three of their events will be reasonably close to you if you are in Wexford – one in Mount Congreve, Waterford, on 14th May, and another in Fota Island, Cork, on 23rd April, and Blarney Castle on 9th July. These are three very good venues as you have the advantage of a great garden as well as the plant sales.

      Some links for you: http://www.johnstowngardencentre.ie
      http://penprimulas.com/
      https://www.irishspecialistnurseriesassociation.com/2017-calendar-isna-plant-fairs-other-plant-fairs-and-garden-shows/

      The older Irish primulas are not often seen for sale and you are more likely to find them at IGPS plant sales – though infrequently. They are more often passed around among gardening friends.

      Happy shopping! Paddy

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      • Thank you for all the useful information. We will probably make it to one of the IGPS events over the coming months.

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      • By concidence, Jim Clarke, of Johnstown Garden Centre put up a note on Facebook that he has a big stock and selection of the Irish primulas in stock at this moment. If you can’t get to the shop I can recommend their mail order service which is the very best I have ever used.

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