Grow a dainty win­ter treat

Cyclamen coum are among win­ter’s pret­ti­est tu­bers. Val Bourne picks the best

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

Cyclamen coum are such jaunty lit­tle plants, topped by an al­most-square ar­range­ment of five slightly twisted, swept-back petals in shades of white and pink. Most have a deep-ma­genta nose, although there are un­marked, pure-white forms. The rounded leaves ap­pear in au­tumn, then the flow­er­ing stems lie in wait, folded over the tu­ber in readi­ness, be­fore the flow­ers open be­tween De­cem­ber and March. Hail­ing from cooler places in lightly wooded ar­eas of Bul­garia, Turkey, the Cau­ca­sus and Iran, grow­ing from sea level up to 2,150m (7,054ft), C. coum is hardy and re­silient. It has nudged through snow in early Jan­uary in my own gar­den. Plant it in a bright but shady po­si­tion, per­haps on the sun­nier side of a de­cid­u­ous springflow­er­ing shrub, be­cause this high-al­ti­tude bul­bous plant doesn’t thrive in deep shade. The sun must warm the soil in win­ter to pro­mote early flower, but C. coum doesn’t like too much of a bake so the soil should still be fri­able and cool in sum­mer.

Great vari­a­tion

This month you’ll find pot­fuls of C. coum in gar­den cen­tres but this diminu­tive 10cm (4in) tall plant shouldn’t be con­fused with the much showier and less hardy win­ter bed­ding cyclamen. The fo­liage of these seed-raised springflow­er­ing tu­bers varies from plain green to dull pewter or a shinier sil­ver with end­less vari­a­tions be­tween. The flow­ers also vary and some nurs­eries sell sev­eral dif­fer­ent forms in­clud­ing an all-white called ‘Golan Heights’ and vivid ma­genta shades. ‘Mau­rice Dry­den’ (named af­ter alpine gar­dener Cath Dry­den’s hus­band) has dark-nosed white flow­ers and green-edged pewter leaves. I ac­quired my own plant from Cath and Mau­rice in the early 1990s and, though it’s rec­om­mended for an alpine house, it has sur­vived for years un­der the canopy of an old ap­ple tree. Some seedlings pro­duced blush-pink (rather than white) flow­ers, but the ex­cel­lent fo­liage has al­ways reap­peared. Peter Moore’s Tile­barn Nurs­ery raised lots of dif­fer­ent cyclamen from wild-col­lected seed. ‘Tile­barn El­iz­a­beth’ (named af­ter Peter’s wife) is very long-lived and its pewter fo­liage sets off the bright pink flow­ers re­ally well. Peter used to sprin­kle all his spare cyclamen seeds on the sun­nier side of an enor­mous conifer hedge and the spring car­pet was spec­tac­u­lar in Fe­bru­ary. Cyclamen spread by set­ting seeds and if you plant sev­eral small pot­fuls you’ll have a swathe of C. coum within five years. Ants help spread the seeds (per­haps not quite where you want them!) as they roll them around in an at­tempt to lick off the sticky coat­ing. How­ever, seedlings in the wrong place can be moved in­spring and quickly re­planted be­cause these small tu­bers re­sent dry­ing out at any stage. The seed pods, re­sem­bling small purses, are held on stems that coil tightly in dry weather then straighten when moist, shak­ing out the seeds as they un­furl. You can col­lect the large seeds and raise your own plants – or let na­ture take its course. Don’t mix the conker-sized tu­bers of spring-f low­er­ing C. coum with those of au­tumn-f low­er­ing C. hed­er­i­folium be­cause the lat­ter pro­duces tu­bers the size of din­ner plates and will smother the much smaller C. coum. In her ex­cel­lent book Bulb, Anna Pa­vord likens this re­la­tion­ship to pair­ing a ban­tamweight boxer with a heavy­weight!

EARLY RISERS The sweet pink and white flow­ers of diminu­tive Cyclamen coum be­lie their hardy na­ture and will grad­u­ally spread to create a swathe of colour

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