Saturday 18 November 2017

A flower to light up your garden

Moisture-loving Candelabra primula likes to self-sow in drifts
Moisture-loving Candelabra primula likes to self-sow in drifts

Gerry Daly

A very beautiful flower and aptly named, the candelabra primula is also very easy to grow. Candelabra primulas get their common name from their very distinctive structure of tiers of richly coloured flowers. The flowers are carried on a sturdy stem, with whorls of flowers opening from the bottom.

The bigger and more healthy the plant, the more tiers are produced, each tier opening in sequence and usually three or four open at the same time. The flower stems can reach about 60cm, so it doesn't need much space. They are related to primroses and the leaves are similar, though bigger. The individual flowers have the family resemblance.

Mostly, the colours are a rich wine red. The main species grown are Primula pulverulenta and Primula japonica. The first species has a mealy white coating on the stems that makes a great backdrop for the red-purple flowers.

Primula japonica is a bit shorter and has a greater range of flower colours, white, pink and red-purple, but not the mealy coating.

Primula beesiana is another candelabra species, flowering later with mealy white stems and pink-red flowers with a yellow eye. Hybrids have been raised and many colour forms have been created. These look well mixed or as single colours.

Although native to Asia, they are perfectly hardy here. They love to grow in moist soil, ideally an area that is naturally damp. Failing that, the right rooting conditions could be provided by allowing an overflow from a pond, or a gutter down-pipe from a building to flow over an area of ground. Candelabra primulas like the soil to be enriched with plenty of organic material into which they can root deeply and which holds moisture.

The candelabra primulas always look best in large groups. In its own natural wild habitat, it occurs in drifts, produced by self-sown seeds and in gardens it self-sows freely in the right conditions and will create the same kind of natural drift. Seedlings and established plants can be lifted and moved at almost any time because they are going into moist soil, but a good time to move them is just after flowering. The bigger established plants can be pulled apart to make new plants with a few crowns each. Choose a spot that gets good light. While they tolerate some shade, though not very much, ideally they should get some sunshine for at least part of the day. After flowering, the leaves elongate and close over the ground, so that if there are enough plants they touch and make good cover against weeds.

Q Is Japanese acer a good choice for my area - how high will It grow?

P McCann, Co Louth

A Japanese acer or maple is a lovely small tree but doesn't take well to harsh winds, especially if there are salty gales. It needs good shelter. If you are near the coast at Blackrock in Louth, other trees are needed to provide shelter. The small hummock-forming ones, such as Dissectum, are only one metre tall or so, while the larger green or purple kinds can reach 10 metres. Obviously, it is easier to provide shelter for the smaller kinds.

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