This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The Chinese Primrose as it first appeared in our gardens in 1821, the date of its introduction from China, was a very different flower from that which we now commonly cultivate under that name. Much smaller in the size of its blossoms, much paler in its hue of rosy pink, it differs still more in having the five lobes of its corolla quite smooth and even at the margin, with a terminal notch only. Such flowers are rarely seen and would not be tolerated now, though according to the florists' canon, that plain-edged flowers are to be preferred, the entire edges of these old fashioned forms ought to have been maintained. However, it was not so, perhaps because both appear to have been received at the same time from China; for in a report on new plants grown at Chiswick, and read to the Horticultural Society by Dr. Lindley in 1824, we find this account of its original introduction: "To this plant, one of the finest ornaments of the greenhouse, attention was first attracted by a drawing sent by John Reeves Esq., from China to the society, in consequence of which it was introduced three years ago by Captain Rawes, and presented by him to his relative, Thomas Carey Palmer, Esq., of Bromley, in Kent. It was for some time very scarce, but is now become more common from the liberal distribution which has been made by the society of plants obtained from seeds brought from China by Mr. Potts. It has never been seen in this country in the luxuriant state in which it is represented in the Chinese drawings, but two varieties have been noticed, one the state in which it produces fringed petals, and the other in which it produces plain petals." The latter seems to have been the more prevalent, and commonly cultivated form, but from the former no doubt the larger and high colored fringed ones was gradually evolved.
The fringed forms are noted in catalogues as having been introduced in 1833, but this in the face of Dr. Lindley's report is evidently an error, and it is probable that the rarity of the fringed type no less than its beauty - for we must admit the beauty of fringed Primulas, and frilled Azaleas, the florists' general law notwithstanding - led to its being more carefully cultivated, and to the selection of improved varieties. This is indicated in the records of the day, for in 1837, Mr. Knight is credited with having in his possession a fringed variety larger and brighter colored than the ordinary form; and a year or two later we read of double-flowered white and rose-colored varieties, these latter being of the plain edged type. So much for the first twenty years of its cultivation in our gardens.
In the next twenty years a slow but manifest improvement was going on in the single fringed sorts, the plain edged ones being generally discarded, and towards the close of this period, several new forms of double flowers were produced, most if not all of them being fringed flowered sorts, with large flowers of rich and varied colors, the original rose and white being varied to purple-crimson and rose-crimson in different tints, and varying shades of pink, flesh-color, and blush, while flaked flowers, white with red stripes, were also produced. During this interval too, and towards its close, the fern-leaved variety originated as a seedling sport, we believe, at Finchley, and this after a time in its turn yielded both the rose and white flowered varieties.
The third period of twenty years since Primula sinensis (P. praeitens of some), was introduced has now nearly passed away, and during this latter space of time, the acquisition of double flowered sorts has been much more rapid, until now the list of names of varieties has become a lengthy one. This period has also witnessed the production of double-flowered forms of the fern-leaved section in various colors, and the numerous certificates awarded during the last few years show that, in the opinion of those best qualified to judge, improvement has been going on. It was quite at the commencement of this third period that M. Benary introduced the bright colored variety named Carminata, the bright salmony rose flowers of which were at that time quite a novelty. The introduction of this form has done much to brighten up the colors of many of the later novelties. This, however, is surpassed in richness of hue by a crimson form, for which it appears we are indebted to M. Vilmorin, and of which we shall hear further by-and-by. - Gardeners' Chronicle.