Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter-flowering Hardy Cyclamen

(Originally Posted November 16, 2007 on MySpace)
It’s just about that time of year when one of my favorite garden plants begins popping up around the garden. Cyclamen coum inhabits the shady corners and crannies, seeding itself hither and yon, but always in a welcomed way. I never tire of it and if, perhaps, it lands in just the wrong spot its root system is so shallow that the tubers can easily be lifted in one scoop of the shovel and moved without the plant ever knowing it was relocated. The main show will occur a little later in the winter, usually February, but here and there over the next three to four months the flowers will appear from time to time, never allowing winters blues to get the best of us. The foliage begins appearing in late September and October and the green and silver-patterned leaves are stunning throughout the winter. I love Cyclamen coum combined with Helleborus foetidus. Their shows overlap nicely and the brighter pinks and fuchsias of the cyclamen are glorious with the chartreuse green of the hellebore blossoms–and they thrive in the same growing conditions.

There have been some selections of Cyclamen coum made by a few enterprising gardeners and nurserymen, but unfortunately most of this has occurred across the pond and many of the varieties are not available stateside. However, there are a few places that are beginning to offer selected varieties. Mostly, though it has been the efforts of the Ashwood and Tile Barn nurseries, along with a few others in England, who have made the majority of the introductions at this point. Here in the states, a few plants were available at one time from Heronswood Nursery, but alas, all they offer now is a seed grown mix. My buddy Barry Glick, at Sunshine Farm and Gardens in Renick, West Virginia ( is also growing Cyclamen coum by the thousands and I’d be willing to bet that he has some fine plants set aside for introduction at some point. A place in Indiana called Munchkin Nursery & Gardens also lists it in their mail-order catalog. They can be found at I’ve never ordered anything from them, so can’t speak to the kinds of plants they supply, but at least they list it–and a nice selection of other woodland and shade garden plants!

Cyclamen coum combines well with many woodland and shade garden plants, including our most common inhabitants like hostas, hellebores and ferns, but they’ll also thrive amongst the roots of other shrubs and trees–and actually prefer it there! When planting cyclamen, be sure that the top of the tuber is exposed above the soil line–yes, that’s correct–the top of the tuber just barely above the soil line. Then mulch very lightly over the top with something lightweight and easy for the leaves and flowers to push through, such as pine straw, soil conditioner, or a very light dusting of partially composted leaves. Excellent drainage is essential for success with cyclamen and exposing the top of the tuber ensures that water will not settle in and rot the crown. Competition from tree roots also helps and this makes Cyclamen coum one of the best perennials for planting directly in the root zone of larger trees.

Well, it’s a beautiful day here and I need to get to work, but I hope this tidbit of information about one of my favorite garden plants has whetted your appetite enough to do a little research and include one of my garden favorites in your own garden.

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