Choosing Primroses

These beautiful, undemanding flowers combine easy care with big results—and make great gifts too.
Author: Steve Bender

If you're a married guy like me, Valentine's Day is one of about four days a year that can make or break you. Forget just one of them and you're dead meat. Remember your lady by giving her something practical, like a brand-new dustpan, and you're dead meat run over by a tractor-trailer.

Fear Not, Gentlemen
I know the ideal gift to extend your life another few months—the polyanthus primrose. A hybrid of several Asian and European species, it's among the showiest flowers in greenhouses and garden centers now. Large clusters of 1- to 2-inch blooms rise on stems 4 to 12 inches high above a clump of crinkly leaves that look a little like romaine lettuce. Colors include blue, purple, red, orange, pink, yellow, and white. Most blossoms sport yellow centers, and many are sweetly fragrant.

No Big Commitment
Think of polyanthus primroses as short-term investments. Give them bright, indirect light; temperatures below 70 degrees; and moist, well-drained soil. They'll gratefully respond with three to four weeks of blooms. Fertilization isn't necessary. Display single plants in pots, or gather several together in a cachepot or basket placed on a table, buffet, or countertop.

After they stop blooming, you can either throw them away or try growing them as perennials outdoors, taking into account that they dislike hot, dry, humid summers. They also need light shade and fertile, acid soil that stays moist all the time. Oh, and watch out for spider mites.

My advice to you? Don't get too ambitious. Content yourself with giving new ones to your sweetie as Valentine's Day gifts every February. Then most of you will have only three other days a year to worry about.

Shop for More Short-Term Wonders
In addition to polyanthus primroses, you may see one or all of the following winter bloomers for sale. Don't try to keep them after they finish flowering. Just chuck them and move on.

Cineraria: Blue, purple, red, or pink blooms, often with white centers

Persian Violet: Sweet-scented, small, star-shaped, blue flowers

Pocketbook Plant: Yellow, orange, or red pocketbook-shaped flowers

Rieger Begonia: Roselike blooms of red, orange, yellow, or pink