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Autumn BeautiesCreated by Verity in Being You, Home and Garden
Some plants are synonymous with their seasons – snowdrops with winter, therapy daffodils signal spring, apoplectic and roses just are summer. Autumn to me means Cyclamen hederifolium. Why don’t we laud this good tempered little plant more? Perhaps it’s because of disappointing experiences with the large and luscious cyclamen that greengrocers, ailment nurseries and garden centres put out to tempt us at this time of year. I’ve succumbed many times, and planted these pot plants out in the garden when they finish flowering. Sometimes they linger for a year or two, but then a hard winter finishes them off. For they are Cyclamen persica, or hybrids of same, and they really don’t like being frozen.
Its smaller cousin, Cyclamen hederifolium, is a much tougher customer. This is one of the most useful plants in the garden because it will grow anywhere, even seeming to relish dry shade, the gardener’s perennial problem. In fact as a plant to grow in the unpromising area under trees and hedges there’s nothing to beat this determined little character. Pink, and some white, flowers begin springing from the bare brown corms in late August, becoming a glorious spread in September and October, and finishing in late November. By then the leaves have sprouted, closing over the area so that it looks as if it was covered with particularly decorative ivy, hence the name ‘hederifolia’.
When I started gardening it was called Cyclamen neapolitanum, and there was a fuss because nurseries were said to be importing the wild corms from southern Europe, denuding the woods of their native flower to supply the demand. Now, having grown it for over thirty years, I find this hard to believe, not least because adult corms don’t transplant well. Also each plant produces hundreds of seeds, all determined to colonise wherever the coiled seedpod flings them. Ants are attracted by the sticky little balls too, and carry them away, so you get seedlings appearing in distant and unlikely places. I started with only a few plants, and now the colony covers a considerable area. Don’t think I could denude it if I tried.
The amazing variation in the leaves is part of this cyclamen’s fascination, not only in pattern but in shape, which can be heart-shaped or triangular, even circular. E. A. Bowles, the famous gardener who died in 1954, and whose Enfield family home became a Mecca for gardeners, had he said, ‘an insatiable desire for cyclamens’. He knew everyone in the gardening world and as a result acquired good forms from several of his friends. In my turn I was lucky enough to be given seed that was said to be ‘Bowles’ strain’, and it certainly has particularly attractive patterning, which it passes on to its progeny. But the plant I admire most, with white flowers and wonderfully patterned, pointed leaves, was just sitting in a nondescript little nursery years ago, not labeled as anything special. It was though. Moral: Never pass a nursery without running an eye over their stock!
It’s not until May that Cyclamen hederifolium leaves wilt and fade away, leaving the ground bare, with just the brown corms poking above the soil surface. The plants certainly deserve a rest, having given flower or leaf interest for over eight months. The corms get bigger and bigger with age. Bowles reported that one, planted by his mother, was wider than his hat, and he reckoned it was at least sixty years old. So it bodes well for the colony in my garden, under shrubs in a dry, inhospitable spot.
I may pop me clogs, but the cyclamen should soldier on.
© Alex Pankhurst