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Have you seen these double primroses?

Double primrose 'Red Velvet' - have you seen it?
In the last ten years, many of the old, double flowered primroses have vanished from our gardens, on both sides of the Atlantic. A combination of virus disease and relentless weevil attack has led to the disappearance of many of these captivating, and very hardy, spring perennials. Grown in Britain. Brought to America they’re part of our horticultural heritage. But they’re disappearing.

The British garden plant conservation charity, Plant Heritage, once oversaw three National Collections of double primroses in private gardens. These too are gone. But Caroline Stone, a keen gardener from North Cornwall in Britain’s West Country, is determined to establish a new National Collection and preserve those wonderful old double primroses.

“I started with five or six double primroses,” she told me, “and having had some success winning prizes with them at the Cornwall Garden Society Spring Show decided to get a few more. It quickly became obvious that there were very few old varieties being sold - but the more difficult it was to find them, the keener I got. Now, I have around seventy varieties ranging from some of the very old to the modern, and with several that occurred naturally in the wild. I hope to be able to get them growing strongly and propagate them to ensure they survive.”

There are two varieties of double primrose that Caroline is especially keen to track down. ‘Red Velvet’ (above, click to enlarge) was a good red, and was quite a vigorous variety – it may still be around. Many of the reds are a crimson shade, but this was a proper bright red. And the slender red edge to each leaf is very distinctive. But now, not so many years later, the plant has become impossible to find. Double primrose 'Torchlight' - have you seen it? Image ©Hopleys NurseryThe other is ‘Torchlight’ (left, click to enlarge)…

Hopleys nursery launched a range of double primroses that had been selected from Barnhaven seed in New Zealand in the early 1980s. One, ‘Torchlight’, a neat upright double yellow, was featured on their catalogue cover and received an Award of Merit from the RHS at Chelsea in 1983. But it too seems to have disappeared.

If you grow either ‘Red Velvet’ or ‘Torchlight’ in your garden, in Britain, North America or, perhaps, New Zealand, Caroline would be thrilled to hear from you. You can email Caroline and tell her about your plants.

Caroline is also looking for quite a few other double primroses that now seem impossible to track down. Here’s her “looking for” list. Please email Caroline if you’re growing any of these varieties:
‘Arthur du Moulin’, ‘Big Red Giant’, ‘Bon Accord Beauty’, ‘Bon Accord Blue’, ‘Bon Accord Brightness’, ‘Bon Accord Elegans’, ‘Bon Accord Jewel’, ‘Bon Accord Lavender’, ‘Bon Accord Lilac’, ‘Bon Accord Purity’, ‘Bon Accord Rose’, ‘Chevithorne Pink’, ‘Crathes Crimson’, ‘Downshill Ensign’, ‘Elizabeth Dickey’, ‘Ethel M. Dell’, ‘Fife Yellow’, ‘Granny Graham’, ‘Ladybird’, ‘Madame Pompadour’, ‘Mark Viette’, ‘Prince Silverwings’, ‘Rhapsody’, ‘Red Velvet’, ‘Torchlight’, ‘Tyrian Purple’.

* The picture of ‘Red Velvet’ - taken by that fine photographer Derek St Romaine, now editor of the excellent new online garden magazine Garden Life Love - appeared in the March 2000 issue of the Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Garden.