By TINA BURNSIDE, OSU Master Gardener

It’s no surprise that Indiana has such a big grin on his face on the cover of this month’s Cascade Discovery. Sitting in the midst of the jewel-toned primroses can put a smile on all our faces, especially when the Central Oregon winter weather is a potpourri of snow, sun, rain and clouds. Remember the saying about being led down a primrose path?

Checking the internet for the origin of this quote, it appears the earliest historical reference is Shakespeare’s use in both Hamlet and Macbeth. The “primrose path” has long been used as a figure of speech meaning “a life of ease” or “a course of action that is easy, pleasant and painless,” according to However, I’m a gardener! I like an immensely more interesting reference that is from the American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.

This huge book is one of my favorite winter reads and the most “comprehensive, detailed and lavishly illustrated guide to garden plants ever published” as quoted by the publisher. For example, there are 64 color pictures of primroses in the seven pages of text. Most of the information in this article is sourced from this book. Primroses belong to the Genus Primula (pronounced prim-you-lah). Primula contains about 425 species of mainly herbaceous perennials, but primroses are sometimes grown as annuals. Perennials are plants that live for two years or longer and, once mature, flower annually.

About half the species are from the Himalayas, and most grow in the Northern Hemisphere. Primula is a complex genus, divided into many different botanical sections. Some primroses are grown specifically as greenhouse container plants or as houseplants, and there are varieties grown specifically for exhibition. Most local nurseries sell primroses, Primula Polyanthus Group, for a very attractive price. Since February and March are too early to plant this variety outside, think about making a fabulous and lovely splash of color by placing several in a basket as indoor plants. And speaking of color, primroses have one of the widest ranges of colors – from purple to pink to yellow to red with white eyes to white with pink tips to salmon with yellow eyes and so on.

Primroses grow in a wide variety of conditions, from bogs to woodland or alpine areas. Some strains are fairly hardy. Since Central Oregon has a USDA hardiness zone ranging from 3 to 5, there are quite a few primroses that will grow here. Most primroses thrive in a chilly winter and a cool summer. Therefore, they grow best in Central Oregon if they are planted in a filtered sun or partly shaded area given our summer heat. Primroses for planting in the outdoor garden are usually available at the nurseries in April.

The primrose flowers bloom in the spring and early summer and are certainly a welcome visitor after months of snow-covered mulch. Primroses can be planted along with bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths for a beautiful spring garden bed. Remember that if you are in a deer habitat, primroses are not deer resistant. Regular watering is recommended but it does depend on the variety of primrose you plant; some prefer more moist conditions.

Primroses are of varying heights, depending on the horticultural group, and can range from 6 to 24 inches tall. Their leaves are usually bright green and can resemble romaine lettuce. We have sandy soil in Central Oregon and primroses prefer an organically enriched and well-drained mixture. To amend your native soil, mix about 1/3 of a good garden soil into the hole with the native soil. Your favorite nursery can provide you with a suitable brand. Don’t forget to mulch after planting to keep the moisture in and weeds at a minimum. Mulch is important in the winter to protect the roots from freezing. They can be grown from seed but would best be started in a greenhouse and then transplanted after all danger of frost has passed, which in Central Oregon can be as late as mid June, depending on your location.

You might be wondering, especially if you are relatively new to Central Oregon, where you can find more information on plants that thrive in this climate. Maybe you are a transplanted gardener from another area and have moved to a beautiful location where you can watch the deer play in your garden, but you want to have a few flowers to enjoy yourself. There is a source of excellent information, free to the public, from the OSU Extension Service offices in Redmond, Prineville and Madras. Trained OSU Master Gardeners are available to diagnose problems and answer questions. Visit our website at index.php and see for yourself. You can also call the Redmond office at 548.6088. Happy Gardening!


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