The Lone Primula
Garden debutante beats up the weeds
Primula are pretty, fragile, looking things, and with a name like Primula, you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at some timid, delicate, too- well-brought-up plant.
Not a bit of it.
I bought a punnet of Primula seedlings, and scattered them all over the place.
All except one struggled. The one that wasn’t struggling was the one I’d put in an odd bit of garden, an almost pencil thin lining of garden be along the side fence. This was a tough neighborhood for plants, as I soon discovered.
It was alive with potato weed, an Italian tuber which produces miniature edible potato-like tubers and has definite plans for world domination. They clump, like typical tubers, and look like chives when they sprout. There was also oxalis, that tolerant member of any plant community, and a vicious thing called asthma weed, which is as much fun as it sounds for hay fever sufferers. It’s a real weed, with abrasive leaves and a tendency to reproduce if you look at it. The odd thistle also put in an appearance, the umpteenth generation of thistle from the 1900s, real Scottish thistles, with tempers to match. A few grasses were also trying to colonize the place.
This was where I’d put my little Primula. It seemed OK, so I left it there, near the gate, where it happily grew despite the neighborhood culture. Anyway, not only did it grow, but it grew quite big, and then flowered. I came out one day to find a little fireworks display near the gate. Talk about elegant! The Primula looked like it was trying to become one of those national monuments. It was a dazzling pink each circlet of flowers perfect.
It was like Margot Fonteyn growing up in the Congo war zone, in costume. This wasn’t a place for annuals, I’d discovered, but the Primula had things well under control. Primulas have ground hugging basal leaves, their version of the dandelion effect. That sort of explained the effect on the nearby weeds, but I discovered that the Primula had somehow managed to claim a zone around itself, as well.
The potato weed, asthma weed, thistles, and other heavies weren’t going anywhere near it. These things were usually happy to take on anything but a full grown French lavender, or other hard cases. They actually avoided it, and there was bare earth around it. It flowered, then flowered some more, like it was trying to prove it wasn’t a fluke the first time. It grew quite big, too, a Godzilla in fancy dress.
It’s hard to describe the effect of this single standout plant, but most gardeners will remember plants which have stopped them in their tracks. This one plant was doing the aesthetic work of a whole garden bed. It had the delicacy of a Chinese floral painting, in the most unlikely setting, against an old grey paling fence, with what could be called “hybrid” concrete.
I’m not sure what species this Primula was, but I think it was Primula japonica. It has perfect circlets of flowers, radiating out from the stem. It looks like it was commissioned from some expert flower designer. This one had “stories”, upper and lower levels of flowers, exactly like a fireworks display.
Wish I’d taken a picture of it at the time, but if you see it, you’ll recognize it. It’ll be the innocent little pink thing scaring the weeds.