Irish primroses

A range of Irish primroses are making a big splash on both sides of the Atlantic as well as the Irish Sea and are well worth seeking out to add to your garden. Primroses and polyanthus have long been favourite flowers of mine and in my teens, having read Roy Genders book on the subject, I started collecting as many old forms as I could. The old varieties are all charming and some have a tangible link with the past, many having been grown (or plants like them) centuries ago. Then I grew Barnhavens, originally bred in Oregon, USA but now settled in France. Their colours and romatic names won me over.

Unfortunately, although plant breeders usually do wonderful things with plants, they have ruined primroses. The have changed a hardy, perennial, dainty plant full of charm, into tender, miffy, useless plants and their flowers have as much charm as a punch in the face. They have been bred to supply growers with a ‘low-energy’ crop that can be sold in early spring and especially at Mother’s Day for minimal cost, even though the seeds are very expensive. Their colours are brash, often clashing horribly in a single flower, and they are huge. In fact, as marketing people are obsessed at making up strange composite names for new strains of plants – just look at ‘potunias’, ‘sweetunias’ ‘Supertunias’ and ‘Crazytunias’ (I have not made these up) – why not call these monsters ‘primtunias’ and lets forget that primroses ever had charm.

Irish primrose 'Drumcliff'

Irish primrose ‘Drumcliff’

But 35 years ago Joe Kennedy in Wexford had a vision and although his aims were not to produce anything commercial the results of his breeding work are now being propagated and made available in large numbers. In one of those strange and confusing coincidences, the first of the series, ‘Drumcliff’ was introduced to mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s visit to Wexford so they are doubly Kennedy primroses. ‘Innisfree’ with dark red flowers was the next introduction. New varieties are being added each year and apparently more than 30 are in the pipeline. I hope that they do not introduce too many or inferior plants just to keep the flow going to please the market. In the meantime ‘Drumcliff’ is a gem.

They all have dark leaves, a reminder of that fabulous Irish primrose ‘Garryarde Guinevere’, which is still one of the best and has lost none of its vigour or charm over the past 80 years. ‘Drumcliff’ has more than a passing resemblance to this old treasure with dark leaves and pale pink flowers but with a primrose habit, not with a bunch of flowers on a common stem as in polyanthus. It is a real charmer and, what is even better, it is perennial and a great garden plant that should stay with you for many years (vine weevil willing).

I will probably mention overblown primroses again but I will stay positive for now!

Now that I have sussed how the polls work I will start a proper Saturday Survey tomorrow, with results the following week. Stay tuned.


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2 Comments on “Irish primroses”

  1. joy
    January 31, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    they are beautiful would love a few hundred at bottom of our garden under the walnut tree

    • thebikinggardener
      January 31, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

      Well at about 5 euro each you had better win the lottery first!

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