Life Gardens

Thursday 26 April 2018

Gardening: Moving to the beat of early spring's drum

Drumstick Primrose
Drumstick Primrose

Gerry Daly

The drumstick primroses are beginning to make a move. The first signs of growth are a rounded, sometimes star-shaped bud at soil level. These have the strangest yellow-green chalky colour as the nascent leaves and flower buds are covered with pale yellow wax. But, even at this early stage, they are decorative. The protective wax coat persists on the leaves and stems right up to flowering time in a few weeks.

Shaped like a drumstick for a big bass drum, it is easy to see why the drumstick primrose got its name. Though ready to flower, it is very tentative about pushing up its flowers. There always seems to be one or two ahead of the main lot. This flower is native to China, where it grows in meadows and rocky areas on the lower reaches of the Himalayas. Being a mountain flower, it responds early to the relative warmth of an Irish spring.

If the weather stays chilly the buds will stay as they are, but a few warm days can see rapid growth. The first flowers generally appear during the time when snowdrops are in flower, and the combination of white snowdrops and lavender primroses is really beautiful. The primroses are much taller and often show colour in the flowers before their full stem height is reached.

The round shape of the flower heads is eye-catching as there are very few globe-shapes in nature, and just a few flowers of this distinctive shape. It brings liveliness to the garden in spring and the pale blue-purple colour is a perfect contrast for yellow daffodils that follow on after the snowdrops have finished.

Though mostly pale lavender, the colour of the flowers is varied. Plants flower in various shades of pale lilac to pink-purple and there are selected forms, such as 'Alba' which is pure white and can be very cool and elegant. 'Lilac' is pale violet and 'Ruby' is a good rich red-purple. These named varieties are raised by division but, otherwise, it is very easy to grow plants from seeds, and self-sown seedlings often appear close to the parent plant.

Seeds from the seed companies are mostly of mixed colours in a range of pale blue, white and purple. The differing shades of colour look really well when planted together randomly in a group.

Sown in March, the plants should be big enough to flower the following spring, depending on how good the site is. If you cannot wait, plants are readily available in garden centres, usually when they are in flower and can be planted out in the garden right away.

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