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One of the best-known spring flowers, cowslips are both an adornment of pastures and banks and a nostalgic symbol our once flower-rich rural meadows.
The Cowslip is a very distinctive little fellow, with a flat rosette of wrinkled leaves and deep yellow, cup-shaped flowers that nod in bunches at the end of tall stems. Once happy, these perennials will slowly form a clump or spread around your lawn or meadow by seed. They have a charm and elegance all of their own, but have been crossed with Primroses to form the Polyanthus, sold in their millions in spring in all sorts of garish colours.
As a wild flower, Cowslips have suffered severe declines as the meadows and pastures where they grow have been ploughed up and 'improved' for agricuture. It's rare to see a spring meadow carpeted with them today. They are still quite frequent on roadside verges and such colonies are often sown, sometimes with European seed that's more robust and cabbagey than our native form. The name cowslip allegedly derives from the term ‘cowslups', basically meaning cowpat! They flowered where a cow had ‘slupped'.
Easily grown in sun or light shade on any well-drained soil, try naturalising them in an unmown lawn or wildflower meadow. Sow seeds in late winter or early spring or divide clumps in spring or autumn.