May 6, 2012

The New England Primrose Show

Primula auricula
In most years, the first week of May marks the time when the ephemerals and wild flowers in New England reach their peak bloom. This year, with record breaking heat, and our unseasonably early spring, it was a miracle that any primroses at all are in bloom.  As we do every year, we host the New England Chapter of the American Primrose Society cocktail party and dinner on Friday night ( which is why I have not been posting all week). It's always a great time to see old friends, and this year we had a special guest speaker, Jim Almond from England joining us. Jim is a notable grower of alpines and primula in the United Kingdom, and his web site is very popular amongst enthusiasts. 

This top winner, is a double form that you may even  find at some garden centers - Primula ' Ballerina'. 

 Here are some of the highlight of this years show. Our unseasonable spring allowed us all to enter some species that are rarely seen in shows in 'normal' cooler seasons. The show was heavy on Polyanthus and Primula sieboldii, with very few early or alpine  primroses such as  P. marginata, or the always popular P. auricula. Still, benches were full of some very beautiful primula, which surprised even me, as it seemed that I have very few in bloom in my garden.

Primula are dug from the garden by exhibitors, placed in pots, groomed carefully by removing dead leaves and flowers that have passed, and then top-dressed with clean soil/ Judges then evaluate each plant carefully,  in each class selecting a winner for each category. A best in show winner is then selected from the blue ribbon winners from each class.

Primula sieboldii, Japan's most beloved primrose, made an impressive showing at this years New England Primula Society show. A great garden plant for woodland locations, this plant will spread and reseed nicely if you don't use bark mulch.

In England, primrose shows are seriously competitive events, with very strict rules regarding plants, their characteristics and form, but here in the US, many rules are relaxed. British growers also focus on the more challenging species and hybrids, like P. allionii and P. auricula ( we would too, if we could grow them well) , but in most areas of North America, the garden primula simply means the Polyanthus types, and sometimes the later blooming Asiatic species such as the fine, and rarely seen P. sieboldii from Japan.   There were many entries in the P. auricula classes, but this year most bloomed a month ago, and are far past their prime. 
Even though the weather has been unseasonable warm this year, many primula were able to be dug from the gardens and exhibited. Leading the pack? Primula xployanthus, which seem to last longer in the garden while in bloom, even as the weather warms up.

My entry ( thrown together Saturday morning after Friday nights party!) won a blue ribbon for a planted container collection.

Another entry of mine, a rarely seen species in our eastern shows - Primula forestii, a greenhouse primrose with tiny pink blossoms. These plants were originally shared with me by Rodney Barker, a fellow member.

A nice selection of Primula sieboldii with fringed blossoms.

This Primula sieboldi cross is a selection made by Elaine Malloy,a founding member of the New England Primula Society, and  a beloved member of our club who passed away two weeks ago - a special award for best plant in the show, was awarded this year in her honor.

Some members still had a few early primroses in the show, such as these Drumstick Primroses, Primula denticulata.

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