Plant of the Month – January, 2013

‘Kennedy Irish’ Innisfree. Photos courtesy of Skagit Gardens.

Primula vulgaris hybrid ‘Belarina’ and ‘Kennedy Irish’ series

Latin name: Primula
Common name: Primrose
Type: Tender herbaceous perennial
Flowers: Half-dollar-sized flowers
Mature size: 4-6” groundcover
Hardiness: Perennial
Soil: Moist
Exposure: Part sun
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries and mail order

‘Belarina’ Nectarine

We stepped out of our box at the Dallas Arboretum a bit this year and gave two series of Primula a spin. They have surprised us, to say the least. The Primula ‘Belarina’ and ‘Kennedy Irish’ series won our Dallas Arboretum Plant Trials Best Cool-Season Novelty 2012. (See all awards for 2012 at
Primula, another name for primrose, means “first prime.” It’s a very accurate name for this little shade-loving beauty, since the flowering primrose is one of Mother Nature’s first indicators that spring is a step away from your door. Primula vulgaris grows 4 to 6 inches in height and tends to have creamy yellow single flowers centered in a rosette of dark green foliage. It’s a herbaceous perennial that adds bouquets of color to your shade gardens. The primrose is a flower that most have heard of — but few grow — in North Central Texas, and for good reason. Primroses have tended to bloom for a short time, fade into the soil, and die with the heat of summer.

‘Belarina’ and ‘Kennedy Irish’ series have shown us how handsome and hardy these first flowers of spring can be. Plant, water, and enjoy. They’re that easy! The ‘Kennedy Irish’ series brings both foliage and flower color together to achieve amazing contrast. Given striking dark burgundy foliage, you might tell yourself, “If it blooms, great; if not, no big deal!” But, it does bloom! ‘Kennedy Irish’ has two varieties in the series: ‘Drumcliff’, featuring a large white flower with a tinge of light purple, and ‘Innisfree’, boasting a dark red flower with a yellow eye.
Our second primrose successes were with the ‘Belarina’ series. Blossoms in this unique series are miniature nosegays of fragrant rose-shaped flowers, available in six vibrant colors. Our favorite, ‘Nectarine’, has dark apricot flowers that fade to a soft pink, showing a multitude of colors on one plant.

The ‘Belarina’ and ‘Kennedy Irish’ series will give gardeners that “OMG! I have an amazing green-thumb” feeling. Plant these primroses in part-sun to shade in your borders, containers or window boxes for early-spring color.

Just a reminder that Primula is a herbaceous perennial and will die to the ground in winter, then start to show signs of new growth in early spring. I don’t guarantee these to survive every summer, but with well-drained soil and just the right cool pocket in your garden, they may surprise you and come back for a couple of years. Have fun and garden strong!

About the author: Jenny Wegley is the senior manager of trials and greenhouse at the Dallas Arboretum. Visit for more information on the Arboretum’s trials.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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