The native primrose (primula vulgaris) is the prima flower or “first rose” of the year. Even though it is clearly not a rose! This heralds of spring is traditionally pale yellow adding a splash of colour to an otherwise dull February day.
Preferring cool semi-shaded areas of the garden these plants are ideal for woodland edges, banks and for growing under hedgerows. In a well-drained yet moist soil primroses will flower year on year and will readily self-seed and naturalise.
In 2002 the charity Plantlife led a nationwide campaign to identify and designate a native wildflower to each county. The people of Devon chose the primrose and so it is of special significance to all of us here at Dobies of Devon. It is our county flower. It is also one of two birth flowers for the month of February, the other being the violet.
Such a special plant is the primrose that it has its own day – the 19th April. Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was a great lover of the primrose and each year, on 19th April they are laid on his monument by Westminster Abbey to commemorate the date of his death.
The language of flowers tells us that the primrose symbolises young or first love and perhaps that is why it has featured so strongly in poetry.
“The snowdrop and primrose our woodland adorn, and the violets bathe in the wet o’ the morn” by Robert Burns
“The pale brimstone primroses come at the spring, swept over and fann’d by the wild thrushes wing” by John Dunne
Both primrose flowers and leaves are edible. The flowers are lovely when crystallised with egg white and sugar and used as cake decorations. Or freeze the flowers in water to make primrose ice cubes for adding to drinks in summer. A primrose tea can be made from the leaves or if you prefer something stronger, the flowers can be fermented with sugar and yeast to make primrose wine.
Garden primulas are of course related but are quite different to our native primrose. Many came from the far east and through breeding bear little resemblance to the originating plant.