The hearty little primrose gets its day

American Primrose Society's national show held in Juneau this year

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

Primrose fans still hope the Juneau Assembly will pass a resolution to name Juneau "Alaska's primrose capital" later this month.

In the meantime, supporters of the versatile flower can check out the American Primrose Society's 53rd National Show, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 17, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 18, at Mendenhall Mall.

The national show will be Juneau's "biggest garden event of the year," according to Pamela Finney, APS Juneau Chapter President. More than 100 different primroses will be on display.

"Juneau is becoming known as the primrose capital of the world, and I'm not saying that to puff out my chest," said APS National Secretary and Editor Robert Tonkin, a Juneau securities analyst and a gardener for the past 20 years. "The two factors that contribute are dampness and our longer periods of sustained sunlight. Those two factors contribute to idyllic ground conditions for most primroses."

In conjunction with the show, the Juneau Garden Club, Juneau Primrose Chapter and master gardeners will hold their annual plant sale 9 a.m. Saturday, May 17, at Mendenhall Mall. More than 1,000 plants will be available.

The weekend show includes a local garden tour Sunday, May 18. Tickets cost $10 and are also good for admission to three Saturday workshops: primrose cultivation at 1:30 p.m., Juliae primroses at 2:30 p.m. and judging and showing at 3:30 p.m.

Rosetta Jones, recognized as one of the most successful primula hybridizers of all time by the APS, is the 53rd National Show Guest of Honor. Jones, of Shelton, Wash., has been an APS member for 50 years. Some of her hybrids, such as Rosetta's Red and Brownie, are commercially available worldwide, Tonkin said.

Primroses belong to the genus Primula and often are found in the wet, cold and temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere, according to the Winter 2002 Quarterly of the American Primrose Society. More than 450 species are recognized. Approximately 70 percent of those species originated in the Chinese Himalayas, Tonkin said.

Despite the number of species, primroses can be misconstrued as a difficult plant to grow.

"What the public often sees is the primrose that we buy in supermarkets," Tonkin said. "That's known as primula polyanthus. They're hothouse grown in warm climates and shipped up here for color. When people attempt to bring them home, the vast majority of them are unsuccessful. There's a false reputation that these are the only ones out there."

The truth is that polyanthus, Latin for "many flowers," are often ill-suited for Juneau weather. Many species of primroses can survive severe winters, not just rain but snow. Primula juliae can tolerate temperatures as low as 30 below zero. Primula auricula thrive in parts of the Yukon where it dips to 30 or 40 below. Primula denticulata, often called "drumstrick primroses," are considered Juneau's signature primula, Tonkin said.

"You can be very successful with primroses, especially because there's a primrose for every garden setup - box garden, raised box, rock garden, dry bog, low slope," Tonkin said. "With 450 different kinds of primroses, there's even one for every color of the rainbow."

Some primroses are even a rare "near-black," Tonkin said.

For more information about the show, call 463-3155 or 586-3469, e-mail or visit

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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