Sunday 22 September 2019

In the Garden: Autumn's ivy-leaved cyclamen put on a wonderful show

Ivy-leaved cyclamen
Ivy-leaved cyclamen

Gerry Daly

There is a wonderful show of flowers on the autumn-flowering cyclamen this year. If anything, the first flowers opened earlier than usual in early August and a smattering of flowers appeared even before the end of July.

Few flowers gladden the heart of garden folk as much as this cheery item opening in the face of a hastening autumn.

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Perhaps only the equally diminutive snowdrop offers the same re-energising boost, albeit a different season, small size offering an endearing dimension.

The pretty, nodding flowers - just 2cm long - are jauntily held on stems about pencil length. The colour is pale pink-purple with a variety of shades on different plants. There are beautiful white forms, too, and these variants appear in most groupings. In some cases, the flowers may be scented.

The hardy garden cyclamen can survive for many decades in gardens and increase in numbers and spread out from the parent plant. It is a common sight in old gardens, often planted under a cedar tree.

While this might seem strange, it became a traditional practice because the cyclamen grows well in the dry soil near the base of a cedar, ideally with the sun streaming in. A cedar would tend to catch most of the rainfall and its root area would be very dry normally.

However, this cyclamen does not have to be grown in dry soil under a tree. It grows perfectly well in any well-drained spot, thriving even in gravel paths where its seeds spread.

It grows well in pots or pans, too, and looks very pretty in a rock garden.

This autumn-flowering cyclamen is Cyclamen hederifolium, the second part of the name means having leaves like ivy, and the leaves are quite like those of ivy, triangular in shape. The leaves are often marked with silvery lines following the pattern of veins, with great variation between plants.

The flowers appear well before the leaves do so in September. The flowers last for about four weeks and, when they fade, the leaves grow out to cover the soil during winter and spring, melting away again in early summer. The plants can cope well with competition from weak grass but strong weeds will tend to shade them severely. They survive in shade but often do not flower as well if the shade is too heavy.

Hidden under the leaves, after flowering, the developing seed-pods are pulled back to soil level by a curling of the flower stem.

The rounded pods swell and burst in mid-summer, releasing the large seeds.

These germinate readily in suitably well-drained ground around the parent plants, slowly extending the cluster of tubers - but may appear occasionally by an autumn roadside where seed was carried by a small animal or perhaps in the mudguards of a car.

The old tubers, of flattened appearance, can be broader than a saucer and can be lifted and re-planted, same way up.

Some garden centres stock tubers of this wonderful flower, which is usually available about now, though not looking anything remotely like the majestic plant it will one day become.

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