In Praise of Primulas
Apr 15, 2022
The cheerful countenance of a primula is such a welcome sight. They pierce late winter’s gloom with their earnest wee faces, announcing the arrival of spring. Their dainty, little beauty speaks to a simpler time, of childhood innocence and bygone days, wistfully recalled. And within these small, brightly coloured packages come the best of things- the warmth of remembrance; the renewal of hope; and the sweetness of life in that very moment.
IN THE WILD
...primulas are happiest in the damper, shadier places and can be found adorning mountain valleys and rocky ridges; gracing the grasslands and open woodlands; thriving on embankments and under hedgerows. Growing from northern and eastern Europe, across North Africa to the Himalayas and through China to Japan, there are around 500 known species.
Primulas are multi-flowered, rising from a sturdy stem in loose umbrels or tightly-packed spheres or nestled low, atop a rosette of leaves. Left to their own devices, primula species merrily interbreed in nature, constantly creating new hybrids.
IN THE GARDEN
...primulas suit a variety of styles, from the pleasant ramble of a cottage garden to the clean, modern aesthetic of an urban garden. Depending on the species, they grow well in rockeries, beds, borders, bog gardens, containers and in Auricola Theatres. An amiable companion plant, they mix well with a lot of other genii that enjoy similar conditions. These carefree flowers tend to look their best when allowed to naturalise freely. They will form neat clumps that will soon carpet the area with their vernal optimism.
IN FOLKLORE AND MYTHOLOGY
...the primula has meaning in many cultures.
To the Celts, it is associated with the fairies. Used with yellow gorse as a Beltaine decoration, bunches of primroses were left on the doorstep, encouraging the hidden folk to bless the house within. T'was said that if one ate the blossom, one could expect to see a fairy soon after. Patches of delicate yellow primroses were believed to be portals to the fairies' realm, for primroses grew in Tir na nOg.
In Norse mythology, primulas are one of Freya's flowers, for they are golden like the goddess of love. Called "Lady's Keys", oxlips could open the gates to milady's hall and were used in Vernal Equinox ceremonies of life and rebirth, dedicated to the Norse Goddess.
In the mythology of the Romans, primulas were a gift to the earth from the gods Flora and Priapus to honour their son Paralisos after he died of a broken heart. The Victorians took this myth as the basis for their custom of planting primula on the graves of children, accounting for their abundance in churchyards across England.
In the Victorian Language of Flowers, however, primulas symbolise young love, the I-cannot-live-without-you kind.
While in Japan, primula indicates the longer lasting variety of love and is often used in spring Ikebana arrangements, given as a token of abiding affection.
In England, Ireland and Scotland, fresh leaves were rubbed on toothaches or used in salves and poultices on wounds. In the spring, the flowers were gathered to make Cowslip Wine. Its sedative properties make it a good treatment for insomnia and later, by Tudor herbalists, in a tincture to calm nervous conditions.
Skylarks and Primroses, Woodblock print with ink and colour on paper c. 1805-10
Kubo Shunman, Japanese artist 1757-1820
Still Life with Primroses, Pears and Pomegranates, Oil on canvas, c. Late 19th century
By Henri Fantin-Latour, French artist 1836-1904
Tuft of Cowslips, Gouache on vellum 1526, Albrecht Durer, German artist 1471-1528
Pansies and Primroses, Oil on canvas c.1941, Alfred Arthur Brunel-Neuville, French artist 1851-1941
Still Life with a Book and Primroses, Mixed media on canvas 1886, Marga Toppelius-Kiseleff
Finnish artist 1862-1924
Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, Oil on canvas c.1890, By Paul Cezanne
French artist 1839-1906, Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Behold, my love, how green the
The primrose banks how fair;
The balmy gales awake the flowers,
And wave thy flowing hair.
- " Behold, my love, How Green the Groves"
By Robert Burns
Scottish poet and lyricist
Thy smiles I note, sweet early Flower,
That peeping from thy rustic bower
The festive news to earth dost bring,
A fragrant messenger of Spring.
- To a Primrose
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Give us again the song of birds,
The scent of blossoms on the air,
The rustle of the growing grass,
The dainty primrose, sweet and fair.
By Mary Dow Brine
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire!
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green;
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours;
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
"A Fairy's Song"
From A Midsummer Night's Dream
By William Shakespeare
English poet and playwright
A big thank you to our friend, CJ Ward, garden designer extraordinaire, for writing this fantastic celebration of Primulas and spring time!
Alicia & Sara-Jane at Virens Studio
Virens is a studio based in Vancouver, Canada that specializes in Ecological Planting Design, Urban Greening Consultation and Hort Writing. Please get in touch with us today, and don't forget to follow us on Instagram @virensstudio
All images, except where indicated, are via Wiki Commons. Contact for full photo credit list.
© Virens Studio 2023 (all photos are used for demonstration purposes and do not necessarily belong to us.)
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