There’s a famous picture of homesick early British settlers in Australia gazing mournfully at a single potted primrose plant that has just been brought from the old country. You’d probably need to have had a European childhood to be so greatly affected by this simple yellow flower, but the modern primrose relatives known as polyanthus are much loved for the cheerful colour they bring to Australian gardens in the depths of winter.

Polyanthus (Primula x polyantha), which includes the common primrose in its complex ancestry, is the result of hundreds of year of breeding and selection. Although technically a perennial, polyanthus is best grown as an annual and composted after one glorious season. In cooler areas, though, especially if planted in the shade, it will re-grow and flower again the next year – but seldom with the same gusto.

Polyanthus (pictured) are most often purchased in full bloom, but it’s better if they can be started small and given time to grow into the role. Plant polyanthus into well-prepared soil to which a small amount of Yates Garden Lime’s been added. Feed regularly with Yates Thrive Flower & Fruit soluble plant food, and pinch off dead flowers to encourage repeat blooming.

Polyanthus blooms come as ready-made posies in pink, red, blue, yellow, cream and white, mostly with contrasting bright yellow eyes. Some have a bunch of flowers emerging at the top of a sturdy stem, while others have evenly-spaced blooms sitting just above the leaves. Both forms look good – it’s simply a matter of choosing which you prefer.

There’s nothing better for giving a cheery winter welcome than a colourful pot of polyanthus near the front door. Use a potting mix that holds extra water (Yates Thrive Patio & Tub mix is perfect) or stir some Rainsaver water crystals in at planting time. Sprinkle Garden Gold fertiliser on to the top of the mix. Pinching off dead blooms will keep the plants flowering for weeks. And they don’t have to be grown outdoors: potted polyanthus are often used for short term indoor colour.

Primula, or fairy primrose, is a much more delicate-looking variety, with candelabra-like bunches of small blooms balancing on fragile stems. The dainty flowers, in shades of pink, white, mauve and carmine, have a faint perfume. Primula can be sown from Yates seeds in late summer and autumn, or can be planted out as established seedlings. They don’t cope well with root disturbance, so help the roots to settle in at planting time by watering the plants with Dynamic Lifter Seaweed Tonic. Primulas do best in light shade and dampish soil.

The third popular member of the family is Primula obconica, which is most often seen as a short-term indoor plant. It has striking clusters of flowers that sit on top of tall stems, well above the slightly hairy leaves. Some people can have an allergic skin reaction to this plant, but newer varieties are less likely to cause problems. It’s best to be on the safe side, though, and wear gloves when handling Primula obconica.

All of these primulas are compact growers, which makes them ideal for small gardens.


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