31: Spring 2013

Author: Alex Pankhurst


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Alex Pankhurst

I’ve just spent the whole weekend digging up primroses. Not from the countryside obviously, that would be illegal, as well as nigh on impossible. Drought-ridden North Essex is not the sort of place where primroses thrive. They need the moist, rich earth of places like Devon and Cornwall. Don’t they?

My garden has sieve-like gravel soil, so the little rain that does fall drains away at once, but optimistically I did plant primroses in the first few years after we came. They were doomed of course, just ignorance making me think they had a chance of flourishing. So when, thirty years later, an acquaintance in Frinton pressed on me a carrier bag full of primrose plants I knew it was a waste of time expecting them to grow. But it seemed churlish to refuse the well-meant gift, so I planted them.

To my delight in various parts of the garden they took, shrugging off drought, grew strongly and flowered. The first buds usually appeared in October, and the last at the end of May. That’s eight months of flower. More importantly, it’s also eight months of seed. And boy did these things go at it with enthusiasm! Innocuous-looking baby primroses began appearing all around. I left them mostly, flattered that they wanted to grow in my inhospitable conditions. You could almost hear them sniggering at my naivety as they quickly grew into great clumps and flung their seed about to germinate happily in the middle of neighbouring plants. Not good.

Gradually it dawned on me that in a few years time there would be hardly anything in the garden except trees, shrubs and primroses if something wasn’t done. I had to get control. So in the winter of 2011, when the weather allowed, I began digging them up. But what to do with the things. How can you fling great flowering clumps of primroses on the bonfire? It’d be like burning prints of Constable’s ‘Haywain’. You just don’t do that. So instead I put box after box of primrose plants at the end of the drive with a notice inviting people to take them for free, adding, ‘Beware. They do seed. A lot!’ Every box went within half an hour, and I felt slightly guilty, wondering how many gardens I’d ruined.

For these are primroses on steroids, primroses with unstoppable territorial ambitions. Except where the North Essex countryside is concerned. There’s a little lane near the house, a track that was an ancient road, with high banks. It’s a delightful place to walk as it is, but what if in spring the banks sparkled with primroses… So for the last four years now I’ve scattered seed, as well as surreptitiously planting my aggressive strain in different places down its length. Perhaps that was irresponsible, but they are real English primroses, untainted with polyanthus blood. I pictured walking down there in years to come, the banks jewelled with pale yellow treasure, and thinking proudly, ‘I did this’.

Yeah, right. Because the damn things don’t want to grow there. Not a single one has survived, a primrose path in the country is never going to be my memorial. But I’ll probably be digging the ornery things out of the garden for evermore. The saying is, ‘Nowt so queer as folk’. But plants must come a close second.

First published in the Essex Group Newsletter, May 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 31.
© Copyright for this article: Alex Pankhurst

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2013. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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