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How to: grow polyanthus


Our flower of choice for winter colour this year is polyanthus (Primula x polyantha). 

Usually brushed aside for the showier primulas, poppies, pansies or cyclamen, we think they deserve attention for their vibrant, happy colours and sterling resilience. 

Modern polyanthus are the result of the interbreeding of three European native primulas. Gardeners in the 17th century greatly admired the wide range of colours that breeders could introduce to the flowers and showed off their collections in specially built Auricula theatres. The tradition continues at the Chelsea Flower Show, where there is always an Auricula theatre to draw crowds of admirers.

Polyanthus are technically perennials, though they work best as annuals, blooming from March to September with domed clusters of brightly coloured flowers featuring scalloped petals.


Photo - Luisa Brimble

In pots

The short-stemmed, compact plants can be lost in the garden, but glow in pots. Choose a pot on the small side as they prefer their roots slightly constrained.

In the garden

A spot in dappled shade with moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil with added compost is best. Plant in groups of 7 or 9 to get a nice splash of colour.



Whether in the garden or in pots, don’t let them dry out. Add a fertiliser high in potash (such as Uplift, Thrive for Fruit and Flowers or Harvest) to the watering can once a fortnight. Snip off finished flowers and leaves to keep them looking good and blooming right through winter.


Best choices

Primula breeding is centred in Europe, where plants are bred and selected for compactness. But in our relatively hot, wet conditions, these compact strains can suffer from botrytis rot. Paradise Nursery, in Kulnura, NSW, has been breeding polyanthus for 25 years, aiming for early-flowering, weather-tolerant plants with large flowers held above the foliage, reduced incidence of fungal problems and interesting colour combinations. The results are amazing flower colours and vigour. Look for ‘Paradise’ branded pots.


Text: Linda Ross

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Author: Linda Ross