Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart.
~Karel Čapek, The Gardener's Year, translated by M. and R. Weatherall, 1931
The best kept secret in my garden is the Cyclamen hederifolium (hedera leafed, of Turkey, SE Europe).
I know that’s a mouthful of a name but I know of no common name with which to ease your discomfort. However, Cyclamen you probably know. Think of the large flowering florist cyclamen which is Cyclamen persicum (of Persia, Iran) that are on sale now in cooler climates for indoor or protected outdoor plantings. Locally this time of year, the large flower florist cyclamen is used a lot for commercial indoor and outdoor plantings but they are not good for hardy re-bloom year after year in the garden. Here these are just annuals. They sport large flowers in white, reds and pinks, have showy leaves and are considered annuals here in the northern US states.
But today I’m talking about hardy Cyclamens that are smaller flowered and will survive winters to USDA zone 5 so they are perennials here. They are a secret in my garden because for a portion of the summer they are dormant and covered by other perennials. In late winter the gorgeous, green leaves with silver marbled patterning come out, and are showy till mid summer. Then after the leaves die down and a brief period of dormancy, the flowers make their entrance in fall when some surrounding perennials are wilting from the cold. They just seem to appear…I’m always caught by surprise. Oh! The Cyclamen is blooming. The picture does not do it justice…it is a must see in real life.
There are many varieties, all reportedly hardy in USDA zones 5-9, except for the persicum variety (the florist ones). According to Sunset Garden writers the hardy Cyclamen grow best in rich, porous soil with lots of humus (an annual mulch of your leaf raking can give you this, especially if you don’t walk on your beds). The tubers like to be planted fairly shallow, just about ½ inch (1-2 cm) below the soil surface, but understand if you live in a colder zone than my zone 7-8 you may have to plant them deeper. Be sure to consult with knowledgeable nursery staff for your regions specific requirements. These Cyclamen self sow, which for this diminutive, non-invasive treasure is desirable. I don’t think you can have too many and they are easy to transplant the pea sized starts the following year to areas not in reach of the ‘seed toss’. If you look at your plant after the flowers have died down, you’ll see the seed head, coiled up like a spring. So cool! I imagine it must give a good fling at some point as I’ve found new starts coming up within several feet of the original tuber.
Some varieties of Cyclamen may sport leaves with the blooms. C. hederifolium has just a smattering of leaves during flowering. All have interesting leaves for a nice show when not in bloom. Some flowers are fragrant, but I really have to get my nose close to catch the scent, and since they are only about 3” (7-8 cm) above the ground your flexibility will really be tested. Shari can help you with that.
Mine have been in the ground for several years. I noticed a few years ago, even though I planted it below the soil surface, the top of the tuber is now exposed. It seems to have moved itself up. I used to worry about this and dig and replant when bulbs would do that. My Lycoris did it too. After replanting them, within a few years they would be up and above ground a bit again. I’ve left them alone for several winters now and they always come back, they must know what they want more than I do.
As for pests, I’ve never noticed any bug, slug or snail damage on Cyclamen. They reportedly prefer dry, dappled shade or full shade areas, so under trees or largely un-watered shady spots will make them happy.
The time to choose and buy C. hederfolium is either in spring when the potted selections will be in full leaf or in fall when they are in bloom. Some of the leaf patterning is so beautiful you may choose the variety on this alone. If you want to see the flower to make your selection…waste no time…head to your nearest nursery NOW!
In Bloom In My Garden Today: Cyclamen hederifolium, Gladiolus callianthus Abyssinian Glad, Cimcifuga ‘Brunette’, Colchicum, Gaura, blue fall crocus speciosus, Fushia, Alyssum, Coryopsis, Nepeta, Russian sage, rose, Eupatorium ‘Chocolate (Joe Pye Weed), Oregano, Schizostylus, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Veronica, Salvia, hardy geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’,Lavender, kirengeshoma palmate, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’