Cyclamen is the Rolls-Royce of cool-season flowers.
You can easily spend $60 for a flat of 16 plants. Yet, if you’re careful, you can keep cyclamen alive for 100 years or longer, which makes them a pretty good value.
Cyclamen has silky petals in red, pink, mauve, or white, with distinctive V-shaped markings on its heart-shaped leaves. Cyclamen plants grow from tubers that should just barely be covered during planting. These tubers survive from one year to the next as long as they are not watered during dormancy, which for them occurs during most of the spring and summer. Soil should be fast draining, and during their fall and winter growing season, water and fertilizer should be liberally applied. To keep tubers alive from year to year, they should be lifted like bulbs and stored in a cool place when weather warms in the spring.
Primroses, which are cyclamen relatives, are also perennial plants.
But in the manner of cyclamen, they are often grown as annuals. In truth, primroses are better suited to the cooler, moister climate of the Pacific Northwest — where the soil is acidic and fast draining — than to our own back yards.
Make them thrive
Nevertheless, it is possible to keep primroses for two or three years if they are correctly situated and planted in properly prepared soil.
They do best in high shade, which means they should be planted in the shade of mature trees or in open north-facing exposures with plenty of filtered or ambient, yet indirect light.
Stop the snails
It is imperative that snail bait be scattered around plantings of primroses. Snails find primroses irresistible. Where snail bait is not used, you may plant primroses today only to wake up tomorrow morning to find them vanished, as if some garden prowler had stolen them during the night.
There are three main types of primrose (Primula species) available now: obconica, malacoides and polyantha. My favorite is Primula obconica. It has large leaves, which are virtually round in shape and, under ideal circumstances, can reach 4 or 5 inches in diameter.
Even without flowers, which appear mostly during fall and winter, Primula obconica can be appreciated for its foliage.
Primula malacoides is a species whose leaves are also roundish, only much smaller in size than obconica’s. Malacoides is a larger plant than obconica, reaching a height of 18 inches. Both types of primroses have flowers in the pastel range, including salmon, rose and lavender.
The third member of the primrose triumvirate is Primula polyantha, the English primrose. Its flowers are bright and vivid, especially when glowing from a shady spot, and open up in all colors of the rainbow.
These three primroses are partial to an acid soil and will show chlorotic or yellow leaves where soil is too alkaline. In order to acidify the soil prior to planting, make sure you work in lots of compost.
If you add peat moss, which is also acidifying, make sure you also add some washed sand (one part sand for every two of peat). The reason for this is that peat moss is water-retentive and, unless sand is also added, will interfere with the good soil drainage that primroses require.