Notes from a Cot­tage Gar­den

Cy­cla­men coum

This England - - Contents - Rose­mary Pet­ti­grew

FOR years the weather fore­cast­ers have been pre­dict­ing a “bar­be­cue sum­mer”, and for years sum­mer has turned out to be un­pre­dictable, with a mix­ture of rain, sun­shine, gales and even hail.

How­ever, 2018 will long re­main in ev­ery­one’s mem­ory as the sum­mer when the bar­be­cues fi­nally came into their own, and the tem­per­a­tures in Eng­land ex­ceeded those of the Caribbean.

I was un­pre­pared for the heat, but the gar­den coped bet­ter than I did. I found it too hot to do any work, and it was left to its own de­vices.

The lawn turned brown and snapped, crack­led and popped when walked on; newly planted shrubs and peren­ni­als with­ered; ev­er­greens shed leaves and alpines shriv­elled.

I did use the hosepipe in des­per­a­tion, but felt guilty do­ing so, even though there was no hosepipe ban where I live. How­ever, the up­side of the hot weather was a bumper crop of fruit, and even the out­door grapes have coloured up and look good enough to eat.

The hot weather fi­nally broke, and the sum­mer rain never felt bet­ter or more wel­come. The gar­den quickly greened up again, flower heads were raised, new leaves be­gan to ap­pear on the ev­er­greens, and even shrubs I thought had died sprouted new growth at their base.

There’s lots to catch up on: the weeds were the plants least af­fected by the hot weather, and have taken dread­ful lib­er­ties in my gar­den due to my in­ac­tiv­ity.

The sight of a colour­ful car­pet of cy­cla­men on a dreary win­ter’s day re­ally lifts the spir­its.

Also known as East­ern sow­bread, this lovely plant orig­i­nates in the Cau­ca­sus, Turkey and north­ern Iran, but it has adapted well to con­di­tions in the UK.

It will hap­pily grow in most soil types, as long as the ground doesn’t be­come wa­ter­logged. It does best in the shade of de­cid­u­ous trees where it will grad­u­ally spread and pro­vide ex­cel­lent ground cover.

Cy­cla­men coum is rel­a­tively slow grow­ing, so avoid plant­ing it with other types of cy­cla­men or bulbs that may prove more vig­or­ous and over­whelm the dainty cy­cla­men coum.

De­spite its del­i­cate ap­pear­ance, how­ever, cy­cla­men coum is an in­cred­i­bly hardy plant that will sur­vive very low tem­per­a­tures and vir­tu­ally take care of it­self – the only thing it will ben­e­fit from is a mulch of leaf mould in early spring.

I’ve had best re­sults from buy­ing cy­cla­men coum in pots, which keep the tu­bers moist. I’ve then planted them out an inch be­low the sur­face of the soil.

I have tried to prop­a­gate from seed, but have had no suc­cess so far. The plants also look good planted in pots or an alpine bed.

There are many dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties flow­er­ing in win­ter/early spring. The flow­ers are only a few inches tall, and come in shades of pink, ma­genta and white, with dis­tinc­tive petals and a dark mark at the base.

The leaves are marbled and usu­ally heart-shaped in shades of green and sil­very grey.

The plants in my gar­den have soft mid-pink flow­ers, but there are only two small clumps of them so far – noth­ing like the car­pet I wish for!

I am think­ing of adding Cy­cla­men coum Mau­rice Dry­den, which has pale-pink flow­ers and pewter-grey leaves edged with dark-green, and Cy­cla­men coum f. al­bis­si­mum Ash­wood Snowflake, which has pure white flow­ers and sil­ver-green leaves with a darker cen­tre.

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