Stroll around London in late winter and early spring, perhaps on the way to the RHS Early Spring Plant Fair, and you’ll see windowboxes planted with colourful cyclamen with prettily marbled foliage. These are tender Cyclamen persicum and, essentially, they’re grown as winter bedding plants in the mildest, most sheltered situations.
But in the gardens at the back, out of sight, and on many exhibits at the show, you’ll find the genuinely hardy and perennial Cyclamen coum. What a little treasure!
Sparkling in winter and early spring associations with hellebores and snowdrops and forms of Crocus tommasinianus, the dainty but robust flowers come in a wonderful range of colours from deep magenta-pink, through a wide range of softer pinks to pure white and with some irresistible bicolours.
The leathery, kidney-shaped foliage also varies enormously from deep lustrous green to completely silver with many pretty patterns in between, such as Pewter Group, shown in the photograph at the top of this article. There’s a huge variety of flower and foliage combinations.
And they will self sow. Generally, individual flowers don’t self-pollinate as the pollen in each flower ripens well before the stigma is receptive. Bees are the most common pollinators and two different plants of the same species will provide the best opportunity for successful pollinations and the appearance of self-sown seedlings in the garden.
This all sounds a bit scientific, but it tells you what to buy. So, when you see a cyclamen on sale that you especially like, buy two plants as near identical as possible. When they cross, the resulting seedlings are most likely to be similar. Dig up any seedlings that are different and give them away. If you prefer a tapestry of different colours and leaf patterns, buy two distinctly different plants.
And don’t be surprised if seedlings appear in unexpected places, like cracks in paving or halfway up shady walls (in the photo above you can just about see a single leaf of a young seedling halfway up the rock, on the left). The stems curl up to bring the pods down to ground level and the seeds are then carried off by ants and bees which eat the sticky seed coats but ignore the seeds themselves. So wherever the ants or bees leave the seeds – that’s where they’ll germinate.
RHS Advice: How to grow hardy cyclamen
The Cyclamen Society
Cyclamen Society Winter Show at Wisley