Primulas do very well for us in our Irish climate and it is no wonder that we have a long list of cultivars which have arisen and been named here. These are passed around from friend to friend but, unfortunately, can be lost over the years so it is well to take care of them and to give them to friends whenever they come your way.
This little darling, Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ was very kindly given to me during this past summer, a small plant in a 10cm pot and, as the saying goes, the best gifts come in small boxes and it has lived up to that saying. When I went to plant it in the garden I managed to get three very small growths and these have bulked up very well in the last months and are now, unseasonably, in flower at the moment tricked by the wet and warm conditions of our unusually mild autumn. It promises to be ready for splitting again after flowering in the spring and, hopefully, I will be able to pass on a piece to somebody else who will grow it, pass it on in time and so preserve a little of our Irish gardening heritage.
The best source of information on heritage Irish plants is to be found in Dr. E. Charles Nelson’s book, “A Heritage of Beauty” which was commissioned by the Irish Garden Plant Society in 2000. Charles was the founding member of the IGPS and taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, and has always had a passionate interest in Irish plants, Irish gardens and Irish gardeners, indeed all things horticulturally Irish. The book is out of print but a small number of copies are still available through the IGPS website.
In his description of Primula ‘Julius Caesar’, Charles writes:
This primula dates from before 1954 and is described as “One of the first to bloom and one of the best… large red-leaved, claret coloured flowers.”
The flowers are single, deep claret on bronzy-green foliage. It was raised by Miss Winifred Wynne, Tigroney, Avoca, Co. Wicklow. This very fine cultivar was said to have been a seedling of ‘Miss Massey’. In 1967 Cecil Monson reported that “although ‘Julius Caesar’ was ‘a strong grower with me it seems to be very rare”.
Charles does not give any note of explanation as to why the name, “Julius Caesar” was applied to this plant, a name which has amused and puzzled me. There is a long list of primula cultivars in A Heritage of Beauty and, for the most part, the names are understandable. There are those which are descriptive: “Old Irish Blue”, “Cloth of Gold” or “Dark Beauty”; those whose name recall their location of origin: “Kinlough Beauty”, “Rowallane Rose” or “Tipperary Purple”; those which recall a person: “Lady Greer”, “Dark Rosaleen” or “Doctor Molly” but where or why the “Julius Caesar” attached to this primula arose is a mystery to me. Nonetheless, it promises to be a fine garden plant and one which I look forward to multiplying and passing on to other gardens where it will be equally treasured.