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A winter stunner...


Last week I ‘introduced’ our small winter bed with the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) being my first choice of subject matter.

greeted by something different each week.

Few plants at this time of year have the real ‘wow’ factor. There is little competition for the few pollinating insects around at this time of year. But this doesn’t make them any less beautiful, and my choice for this week is certainly a little stunner.

The hardy Cyclamen with their distinctive flowers held over deep green foliage through the harshest of winter weather. Tough little beauties, especially considering that they are mostly native to Mediterranean regions. Many species have naturalised over the centuries up through much of Europe.

Don’t compare these hardy garden plants with the florists cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum. These may have larger and brighter flowers, but although preferring a cool position in the house they would soon turn up their toes if planted outside!

The name ‘cyclamen’ is from the Greek cyclaminos, meaning circle. This is in reference to the shape of the tuber from which it grows – and can reach 25cm or more across in some species.

There are two main species commonly grown and seen in gardens – both of which, quite deservedly, have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Cyclamen hederifolium is known as the ‘ivy leaf’ cyclamen due to the shape and patterning of the leaves. It used to be known as Cyclamen neapolitanum, referring to Naples, where the species naturally grows. This is the earlier flowering form, often in bloom as early as September and flowering throughout the autumn and into winter.

Cyclamen coum leaves vary from round or kidney-shaped to long heart-shaped, often with wonderful silver markings over deep green, or even all-silver. These tend to flower from mid-winter into spring.

Cyclamen are from the family Primulaceae, the Primula family. This may not be obvious at first glance, but consider the favoured habitats of moisture retentive ground and shade – such as in woodland or under deciduous shrubs – then its relationship with our Primrose is a little more apparent.

The flowers of the hardy cyclamen vary from white, though many shades of pink, up to quite deep magenta. They are wonderful planted in woodland areas or shady borders, especially in association with other early flowers such as snowdrops, winter aconites and primroses.

I have a mix in this bed, and I am now finding seedlings from previous years. As the flowers fade after pollination, the flower stems (pedicels) curl up, spiralling back towards the tuber. When the seeds are ripe they uncoil like a springs – throwing the seeds away from the parent plant. The seeds have a starchy coating which changes to sugar, attracting ants who carry the seeds a little further away. Nature is so ingenious.

• Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre) teaches RHS Courses at all levels. Applications are now being taken for September. For more information visit: www.maneaschoolofgardening.org or email: msog@btinternet.com

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