April 19, 2010

Barnhaven Primroses - A Blooming Legacy

I picked a selection of my Barnhaven Polyanthus Primroses and arranged them in a homage to a 1950's American Primrose Society Quarterly cover that I saw in our bookcase.
In the world of Primrose culture, the name Barnhaven carries as much cache as the name Gucci or Versace does in Fashion. Or, more accurately, when one grows primroses from Barnhaven seed, or obtains Barnhaven plants, it' the same thing as buying an outfit at a couture Milan Fashion house. So today, I am remembering the heyday of Primrose mania, in the United States during the 1930's and 40's, inspired by my Barnhaven seedlings.
A 1946 ad for the original Barnhaven primroses.

Simply said, Barnhaven equals provenance, for the breeding lines can be traced back to 1935 when the tiny nursery founded by Florence Bellis in rural Oregon  during the depression.  Last Year, when the current owners of Barnhaven visited our gardens during the American Primrose Society National Show, they shared some seed with us from their specialized collections of Polyanthus primroses. Today, anyone can order these most exclusive of primroses, but only from the source, Barnhaven Primroses. My seedlings are starting to bloom, and are very choice and beautiful, but the back story of this famous line is even better.

Seedling form of Barnhaven Polyanthus Pastel Victorian's bloom for the first time under some apple trees.
 Barnhaven has been breeding and selecting now through various owners, since 1935 when Barnhaven's founder, Florence Bellis started selecting primroses for sale, when the garden was in Oregon. SInce then, it was owned by the Sinclare's, was relocated from Oregon to England, transferred to Angela and Keith Bradford (who also visited with us), who moved the collections and breeding lines to France, and currently owned and maintained by Lynn and David Lawson ( who visited us last year). The seed the David Lawson gave us has genetics that go way back to the 1935 lines, and I was curious to see what they would look like. 

A vintage Barnhaven print ad from a 1940's American Primrose Society Journal

Florence Bellis' Barn, in Oregon at the original Barnhaven nursery circa 1940.
Pastel Victorian's
Today, you can order barnhaven seed and plant direct from France, the seed is guaranteed fresh, and grows very easily. All of the plants you see here we're grown from seed that was sown late ( for Polyanthus) last May, and were grown on all summer in 4 inch pots, then planted in the garden in October. Next year, I expect them to be even larger.Polyanthus primroses like this are not as common as the Acaulis types (no central stems), for these have a pedicel, or a stem which makes them sturdier as garden plants. 
Barnhaven Polyanthus Primrose selection 'Gilded Ginger'

Another 'Gilded Ginger' seedling.

Barnhaven Polyanthus 'Yellow Cowichan'. Cowichan polyanthus are primroses that have flowers without a ring or spots in them, and are of a single color.

Barnhaven Blues, a well known acaulis type ( no stem) and old blend of pale violet primroses from Barnhaven ( the flowers are dirty from my muddy fingers).

Some seedling Barnhaven Polyanthus in my garden. The colors of Polyanthus Primroses may seem odd, when mixed together, but there is something about these strange tints, in tones and hues which we would rarely combine in any setting, with rusty mauves, gold, brownish reds and purples, combined with pale yellows. These are natures colors, and I think they look best when set against natural browns and tans found in garden soil and composts. They feel vintage, and in fact, they are somewhat vintage selections, which adds to their appeal, I think. There are a few old images in various gardening journals of the original Barnhaven farm, and there is a particular black and white snapshot of the planting fields in Oregon, with rows of vintage hued Poly's, and when I see my Barnhaven poly's in bloom on an overcast spring day, I always recall that image, imagining what is may look like in color. In many ways, I imagine that it looks a bit like my garden bed, which, although at a smaller scale. has the same natural soil and plants in it. Florence's plant live on.
Florence Bellis working with her Primula from a 1945 American Primrose Society Quarterly

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