Everyone is familiar with the common grocery store primroses, but the Primula family is actually pretty large. One of the more unusual looking ones is also one of the easiest ones to grow- Primula denticulata, the drumstick primrose.
Native to Tibet, Burma and China, this Himalayan primrose holds its blooms on an eight to twelve inch tall stem, in a cheery ball of flowers that bobs in the wind. The flowers themselves are the trumpet shaped, in shades of white, pink and purple, all with yellow eyes. Unlike the common primrose, which almost seems to sink down into the ground, the crown of the drumstick primrose stands above the ground -so don’t plant them where the snowplow or shovel will scrape over them in winter. The leaves are not smooth, but serrated. In spring when they come up, they look like alligator jaws coming out of the crown! P. denticulata blooms after the common primrose, but before most other plants, and they bloom for around three months; they make nice, if short, cut flowers. Except when the plant is tiny, each plant has many bloom stalks.
Hardy down to zone 3, there is no place in the Inland Northwest they won’t survive. While not picky about type of soil or ph, they do need a site that stays evenly moist. Naturally growing in partly shaded sites, they can take full sun up here but I’d avoid putting them against a west wall. They are gorgeous in a woodland garden or beside a stream or pond, and are cute in a rock garden that doesn’t get too hot and dry. They are also at home in cottage gardens and English gardens. Their flowers attract bees and butterflies, and deer have never bothered mine.
Primula denticulata are easy to propagate; they spread on their own by both division and seed but are not invasive. While they can be divided at any time, it’s best to do it after they stop blooming. Seeds need cold treatment to germinate; either sow in fall and leave the containers in a cold frames over winter or put the seed pack in the freezer for three weeks before sowing in spring; sow on the surface of a fine textured potting mix. The individual plants are short lived- about three years- but they replace themselves continually. They will not bloom their first year, but will reward you by enlivening your early spring garden for years to come.