Candelabra Primulas

Among the vast primula tribe, the candelabras (section proliferae) are the easiest to grow, and hence much loved by gardeners who have a bit of damp and not too much heat. They aren’t especially fussy about soil type – some grow on limestone in the wild – and are, in general, usefully perennial and resistant to abuse. Their chief enemies are slugs (which gnaw out the resting buds) and moles, which can leave the tap roots dangling in the air of their tunnels. They really don’t like heat, though, and can be weakened by too much of it, after which they may succumb to all sorts of horrors.

There are many different ways of using these plants, but I use them to form blocks of colour rather than mixing them up. Their colours are intense, and can clash badly with each other if you are not careful. Some gardeners like  this effect, but I don’t, so I avoid mixed candelabra seed.

Primula ‘Inverewe’ grows happily with me in soggy yellow clay but many people find it difficult. It’s a hybrid, so has to be propogated by division. The intense orange of a bed in full flower is wonderful, but you do need to be a bit careful where you put it, as it dominates everything around it. I find it almost immune to cold, wet, or disease, and it grows happily with its tap roots down to the (non-stagnant) water table.

Primula puverulenta is equally intense in colour – and needs to be kept well away from ‘Inverewe’. It’s a lot more temperamental – largely because slugs will attack any weakened plant – and a lot less fond of clay. It also picks up a virus which stunts the leaves. I grow mine in deep wet compost, but with the roots kept above the water table. It’s a greedy plant and needs annual top-ups of humous-rich material. Part of the attraction is the meal (farina) which coats the stems in silvery yellow. Most of the prolifera are promiscuous in their habits, so you are better to propogate by division if you want to maintain a particular shade (see splittting candleabra primulas). However, p.pulverulenta sets seed readily, and it germinates equally readily, so you can build up a big collection quite rapidly.

For the orange/yellow shade, I rely on p.bulleyana. This is a really tough primula, which will even survive in turf (wet turf). It’s slower than the others to emerge in Spring, and usually flowers a week or two later – which is annoying. It gets mixed in with p.chungensis, which has flatter-faced flowers and lacks the crimson shade in the young bud, but is otherwise very similar. But the general tendency among the proliferae not to be too fussy about interbreeding means that trying to grow distinct species is usually a fool’s game. p.bulleyana refuses to set seed with me, so I divide it now and again. It forms fewer offshoots than the others, so it takes a little longer to build up a substantial block.

Finally (for the moment) we have p.aurantiaca. The virtue of this plant is in the black/dark red flower stem, which contrasts well with the vivid orange of the flowers. It’s smaller than the others, seems to appreciate rather more shade, and likes the soil a bit dryer (though certainly not dry) It’s slow to make clumps you can divide, and doesn’t set seed with me, so you need to take a little more trouble with it. Along with p.pulverulenta it dislikes having its roots undermined by moles, though slugs seem to leave it alone.

These primulas ought to grow in any garden that is reliably damp and reliably cool for the growing season. Winter (as always with primulas) is the time of most danger, unless you can provide good snow cover from October on. p.pulverulenta is particularly susceptible to rotting in mild rain-sodden winters.


12 thoughts on “Candelabra Primulas

  1. Amazing primroses Kininvie! I think in this instance you are right to make blocks of color, quite a statement. You know them all so well too. Primroses here are promptly eaten by slugs– I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the candleabra sort, or at least not so massed and successful.

    Are the neep plants doing as well?

  2. Fantastic post, just what I needed having planted the ones I brought back from Scotland last year and the few different varieties that I have bought this year. Sowed lots of seed last year, they are almost ready to plant out, interesting what you said about keeping all your colours seperate, that was my thinking, until 3 popped up together , a salmon, a mauve and an orange, goodness knows where they came from! Hope mine aren’t too wet, the bog garden is where the pond overflows and boy, has it been overflowing these past few weeks! Super new header photo of Inverewe!

  3. In general I don’t segregation is a good idea but I understand in this case.
    I’m a fan of regular primulas, I’ll be looking out for these.Their thick stalks remind me of bergenias.
    How long do they flower for ?

    • Hi b-a-g, Depending on conditions, they can keep a good display going for about a month from start to finish, although heat or drought will put an end to the flowering rather faster.

    • Mine are just starting too – I had expected you to be futher ahead. At least they will have been wet enough this year! You should maybe protect against slugs now – they have an irritating habit of climbing the flower stems and eating through them just enough to cause the head to fall over.

      • Ooh that would be just like the little bastards. I was pondering the mysterious failure of 2 of my tomato plants of different types when I noticed they’d been ‘ring barked’ at soil level and the slug was still there… digesting.

  4. Gorgeous. I love the blocks of colours and have a general aversion to most mixed seed plantings, as inevitably the most dominant colour is the one I like the least. Possibly not the best plants for my own garden which is overrun with slugs at the moment and generally has mild, wet winters.

  5. Dear mr. K, I unforgivably missed all your latest posts, as you know I’ve been a little busy lately and I’m trying to catch up now. Your primulas are all fantastic, even though I’d never dare planting a single one in my garden. I guess it wouldn’t survive more than a few hours… The red ones are very interesting, they almost look like lychnis Chalcedonica, but the one I prefer are the orange ones, they would look pretty close to some of your blue flowers you cherish, don’t you have any?

  6. Hello again You have kindly let me use your picture of P.aurantiaca before and I was wondering if there was any chance I could include it in the book ‘A plant lover’s guide to primula’ I am researching. Please contact me on for more deatils. Many thanks

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