Celebrate Spring with Candelabra Primroses

I’m not a fan of those brash, grocery store primroses, much preferring the English woodland primrose that is both reliably perennial and a much more pleasing buttermilk yellow. Yet I was totally seduced by the displays of bright candelabra primroses I saw in England last spring. Their bright citrus colors reminded me of a packet of Starburst – so tempting that you can’t possibly just have one.

What's in a name?

Common Names can be confusing, however. The candelabra primrose is also known as Japanese primrose and the Latin name is typically quoted as being Primula japonica. Yet Primula bulleyana and Primula pulverulenta are also called candelabra primrose. To make things even worse, many of the varieties available today are hybrids. For example Primula x bulleesiana is a gorgeous hybrid between P. bulleyana and P. beesiana, combining the best of both parents yet adding another layer of confusion for anyone who isn't into taxonomy (both hands raised here).

My solution – call it a candelabra primrose with a confident tone and (preferably) an English accent and your friends will just nod in agreement.

Why you need these

  • They will thrive in consistently moist soil in full sun or partial shade
  • Deer-resistant (although rabbits may nibble the tall, budded stems)
  • Semi-evergreen
  • Attracts butterflies
  • Will self-seed, but politely
  • Blooms mid-late spring
  • At 12" wide (basal foliage) and up to 24" tall (flowering stems) you have room!

Design & Combination Ideas

Edge a border

Harlow Carr candelabra primroses edge a path at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Yorkshire

Use these primroses like you might hosta or Japanese forest grass and line a pathway or border edge where you can enjoy them up close. Consider what colors the flowers and foliage are in the layers behind them and try to repeat- or echo some of those shades. In the example above the burgundy foliage of a Japanese maple, yellow Rhododendron  and pink poppies repeat the sherbet colors of the primroses.

Add Contrast in Scale

Furzey Gardens, nestled in the New Forest National Park, England is a hidden gem

The above scene at Furzey Gardens stopped me in my tracks. The dramatic, oversized leaves of a gunnera underplanted with a froth of primroses was almost comical. That juxtaposition between the big and beefy with the delicate and lacy…. I also appreciated the color echo with the spring foliage of the Japanese maple in the foreground; an ethereal connection that was all the more striking for its transience.

Use in a Mixed Border

Beth Chatto's garden in Essex features far more than just her renowned gravel garden.

Beth Chatto may be best known for her dry gravel garden, but she also has some delightful water gardens and more traditional borders within her garden. I love the bright splash of golden yellow that candelabra primroses add to the above scene. Lady's mantle and iris are perfect companions.

The whorls of flowers are held high above the basal foliage of the candelabra primrose. RHS Harlow Carr, Yorkshire

Ar RHS Harlow Carr, blue Himalayan poppies are a popular companion plant to candelabra primroses, weaving through shade borders that include hosta and ornamental rhubarb.


Paths leading to a partially obscured pond are lined with water-loving plants including candelabra primroses. Newby Hall, Yorkshire

Repetition is a key design tenet – repetition of color and/or form. At Newby Hall, the repeated, vertical punctuation points of iris and candelabra primroses  draw you down the paths towards the hidden ponds. How can you possibly resist? Rodgersia and Acorus are perfect companions for the damp soil.

Go Big!

A bridge crosses a boggy area densely planted with candelabra primroses at Furzey Gardens

Without a doubt, candelabra primroses look at their very best growing near water and when planted in large drifts, whether as a single color or a mixed blend. This scarlet carpet beneath a bridge at Furzey Gardens was especially eye-catching and contrasted well with the gunnera.

The streamside plantings at RHS Harlow Carr feature a magnificent display of their Harlow Carr selection of candelabra primroses.

The scene above is from RHS Harlow Carr where the streamside planting is a joyful planting of Harlow Carr hybrids, backed here by iris and ferns.

More combination ideas

For more partners in damp soil and partial shade consider bugleweed and astilbe, both of which are deer resistant. Also check out this link for inspiration.

How to Grow

For the best color selection you may want to grow from seed in winter or very early spring. Plant World Seeds is a good place to start.

If your local nursery doesn't carry these as plants, check out reputable online suppliers such as Plant Delights Nursery, White Flower Farm and Far Reaches Farm.

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