Primula florindae red form © Isabelle van Groeningen

Primula florindae red form

It is hard to believe, but it really does seem to be true: after the weeks of turbulent weather with snowfall, frosts and unpleasantly cold winds, we finally seem to have turned a corner. Almost overnight we have switched the temperatures from winter to early summer setting. At the Garden Academy, happy customers were basking in the warming sunshine, tanking much needed Vitamin D. Every seat, every bench was occupied. Those of us who spend most of their time indoors, found some excuse to be outside. Customers are happy and in a good mood and our wonderful gardeners team are delighted that at long last the season gets cracking. The weeks of covering over the plants to protect them from the night frosts, or moving the sensitive Magnolias that are on the point of bursting into flower back indoors every night, are at long last over.

Primula vulgaris © Isabelle van Groeningen

Primula vulgaris

Staudenmarkt or the annual spring plant fair at the Botanic Garden

This weekend in Staudenmarkt in Berlins Botanic Garden, situated opposite us. This big specialist plant fair takes place twice a year. The April one is always busier than the September one, as everybody in on the lookout for something new to fill the gaps. Dozens of specialist nurseries come from all over Germany and beyond to offer a unique range of plants. It is a “no frills” event for the serious plantsman. By 9am long queues wait outside the gates, people eager to get in and lay their hands on the special rarities.

No plants allowed

What does leave me puzzled is how the Botanic Garden is dealing with its new policy of not allowing plants from outside sources into the garden. Customers of ours were recently  turned away from the gate as they were carrying plants they had purchased at the Garden Academy. Apparently, the Botanic Garden has a new policy of not allowing plants acquired elsewhere, in case they contaminate the collections with some pest or disease. They are understandably concerned for the welfare of their plant collections.  This would mean that in future the Staudenmarkt will probably have to be relocated to another site where this will not pose a problem, as the logistics of checking all nurseries before they arrive with their plants is quite unrealistic for such a large event.

Feeding bees

We are bracing ourselves for a busy weekend. The Staudenmarkt days are always full, combined with the first good weekend of the season when many gardens owners wake up out of their hibernation on the hunt for some flowers, as if they were nectar-starved bees. We may be hungry for colour, our bees are hungry for flowers: our beekeeper came to check on his girls last week and had to feed our two colonies as they had no food left in their reserves. The cold weather put a stop to the early spring flowers. So if you do go out to treat yourself, buy bee-friendly plants and avoid double, filled flower forms. Particularly popular at the moment are the early bulbs such as Crocus though they will not last much longer with these temperatures. Scilla and Corydalis are joined now by the first Narcissus. Bergenia, Pulsatilla, Pulmonaria and cheerful yellow Doronicum are good early feeding perennial plants, whereas Cornus mas and the first flowering Cherries are bringing soft colourful clouds into the garden. The Erysimums we put out on our sales tables this week proved highly popular, as were the various primulas.

Primulas Kevock Gardens Chelsea 2016 © Isabelle van Groeningen

Primulas Kevock Gardens Chelsea 2016


Primula denticulata © Isabelle van Groeningen

Primula denticulata

I always love the Drumstick Primulas, Primula denticulata, with their clear spherical flowerheads. They were the first primulas I ever grew in my childhood garden, and were the start of a long-lasting love affair with them, which peaked at the time I worked in a Scottish Nursery in the Highlands. The cool, moist weather suits them perfectly, so they would grow almost like weeds. The nursery even had its own Hybrid ‘Inshriach Strain’ which was a stunning orangey red tall candelabra-type which are a real show-stopper that flower late-spring. Later still is Primula florindae that carries large nodding bell-shaped flowers at the end of a tall stem. Another firm favourite is P. capitata with a flattened sphere of inky purple flowers, contrasting strongly with the white farina-covered buds and stems. These are all showy and exotic, but I equally came to love the humble Primroses (P. vulgaris), Cowslips (P. veris) and Oxslips (P. elatior) that adorn fields and hedgerows and featured prominently in my years spent in the Cotswolds.

Propagating Primulas

Candelabra Primulas Windy Hall © Isabelle van Groeningen

Candelabra Primulas Windy Hall

I have re-introduced them into my life in recent years by trying various ones in my shady garden in Berlin. The success has been encouraging, as we have an irrigation system and they love the moisture this offers. They feel at home, to the point of self-seeding. Like many of the spring- and early summer flowering plants, the seeds are best sown fresh, directly after harvesting it. Fill up a pot with sowing compost, put a thin layer of grit on top and then scatter the fine seeds over the top. Then carefully water the pot so the seed is washed between the little stones onto the compost. Stand them in a cool, shady place, and prick them out into normal potting compost once the first two leaves have formed. Grow them on and plant in a cool, shaded part of the garden, many love it on the edge of a pond or stream.

These are just a fraction of the 500 or more different species that exist. Some are very tricky, demanding plants that need special growing conditions such as an alpine house to protect them from too much winter wet. Treat yourself to some this spring and do your bees a favour!

Primula japonica © Isabelle van Groeningen

Primula japonica