Get Growing: Primroses

Last modified: Thursday, February 13, 2014
If you are longing for a bit of color in your life as well as a whiff of spring, buy yourself a primrose plant.

Local garden centers and supermarkets are featuring these cheery plants at bargain prices. Surely $2 or $3 can be spared to perk up your spirits for the next few weeks. Doesn’t a latte cost as much?

Primroses, literally the first rose of the year, although they aren’t roses, come in a variety of colors. The original Primula veris was pale yellow and this still seems to do best in a home environment. But breeders have created blues, pinks, reds, whites and lavenders, something to match any décor. If you are careful you can keep them growing on a sunny windowsill until spring when they can be planted in the garden as perennials. Again, the yellows seem to overwinter best outdoors.

Water carefully. They need moist, but not soggy, soil. When the sun shines, you may need to water frequently. When clouds come, they don’t need as much water. Give them a mild fertilizer boost every two weeks. Snip off dead flowers and leaves to encourage them to produce more. Watch for spider mite, which usually attacks mine in late March just as I’m sure I can carry them through till April. When spring comes, harden them off in a shady place and then plant them in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. With luck they will return year after year and multiply.

HAL BORLAND: For more than 30 years Hal Borland has helped me keep my optimism in the midst of winter storms. Borland, who wrote the outdoor editorials for the New York Times for almost 40 years, died in 1978, about the time I discovered his writings. “Sundial of the Seasons,” a compilation of his nature editorials, was published in 1964 and sits beside my sofa for easy access when the cold and snow threatens depression. It was from Borland I learned to notice the gradual lengthening of winter days, just a minute or two extra of daylight marching toward spring. His observation for a past Jan. 4: “The change is slight, but the span of daylight now lengthens toward March and the vernal equinox. ... Sunrise still lags, and it will continue to lag for another week. But sunset has already begun to change. … By the end of the month sunset will be still another half-hour later, and by then the sunrise will be enough earlier to make a total gain of almost three-quarters of an hour of daylight.”

On WAMC, the Albany public radio station, each noon the weatherman notes how many minutes of daylight are gained that day. It is comforting. On a past March 5, Borland offered another ray of hope about the coming of spring. “... once spring starts moving north it travels at a fairly regular and predictable pace. The rate is approximately seventeen miles a day. Just for example, if red maples should start opening bud in Washington, D.C., on March 15, which is most unlikely, the same variety of trees could be expected to open bud in Baltimore two days later. And given normal weather throughout that period, two weeks after they opened in Washington, they would open in New York City.” He adds, however, that this calculation is accurate only for sea level. When mountains and hills interfere, the pace crawls to only 100 feet in a day. Which explains why spring arrives on the south side of Mount Norwottock long before it comes to my South Amherst home.

Still, it is heartening to know that spring is marching north, not yet, but soon. Thank you, Hal Borland, for keeping me sane through the snow and cold.

COMPOST SCIENCE: Members of the Amherst High School Environmental Club will demonstrate composting tomorrow at noon at the Amherst Winter Farmers Market at the Regional Middle School on Chestnut Street. Free. Sponsored by Grow Food Amherst and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass.

POLLINATORS: Wild bees and other insects are critical pollinators of fruit and vegetable crops as well as of ornamental flowers. Tom Sullivan, an expert on attracting pollinators, will give a free workshop on how to attract them tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Hadley Garden Center, Route 9, Hadley. 584-1423.

BARK AND BUDS: Brad Roeller will offer a workshop on winter identification of trees and shrubs, “Bark and Buds,” tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Fee is $35. Call 298-3926 to register or go to www.berkshirebotanical.org.

ORCHIDS: The annual orchid show of the Amherst Orchid Society is next weekend, Feb. 22 and 23, at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton. Admission is $5, children under 12 are free. It’s a chance for a tropical vacation, or at least a glimpse of spring.

Cheryl Wilson can be contacted at valleygardens@comcast.net.