Cyclamen are a genus of about 20 tuberous perennials grown for their pink and white flowers that appear at a time when few other plants are flowering. Most cyclamen are found around the Mediterranean and across southern France, Italy, Greece and into Turkey. Cyclamen habitat ranges from deciduous woodlands to scrubland and rocky areas. Some cyclamen species flower from September to December, others from December to March. Most grow to about 10cm tall although established tubers can reach the size of a dinner plate and produce dozens of flowers. Hardiness RHS H4 and H5 USDA 7b-9a. Below are tips on how to care for cyclamen, how to propagate as well as John Hoyland’s favourite cyclamen.
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How to care for cyclamen
In general, hardy cyclamen prefer poor, well-drained soils in full or part shade. Hardy cyclamen are easy to grow as long as you avoid heavy soils that are apt to get waterlogged. If you do have very wet soil it is probably best to grow cyclamen in pots or raised beds. Cyclamen are at their happiest around the base of deciduous trees and large shrubs. These are areas that are cool and shady in the summer but light and moist during the autumn and winter.
Don’t confuse hardy cyclamen with the florist’s cyclamen that you see for sale during the winter. These are forms of a tender species, Cyclamen persicum, that have been cosseted throughout their lives and will not survive outdoors.
An important consideration when growing and caring for cyclamen is whether to buy them as dry tubers or as already rooted plants in pots. Potted plants are more expensive but will establish more quickly and flower immediately; tubers will take some time to establish and probably won’t flower the first year after planting. Plant container-grown cyclamen at the same level as they are in their pot and plant tubers about 3cm to 4cm below the surface. If you are planting tubers, make sure that they are the correct way up. The flat or slightly indented face is the top.
How to propagate cyclamen
The sweeps of cyclamen that are seen in the wild are a testament to the nifty ways in which the genus has developed to ensure that its seed is distributed efficiently. Cyclamen seeds are held in capsules on the end of spring-like stems that unwind to deposit the seed as close to the ground as possible, increasing the chances of germination. Seed distribution is further assisted by ants, birds and small mammals. Attracted by the sweet coating covering the seeds, ants take away the seeds to a safe place, eat the sugars and leave the seed to germinate. Small birds that are attracted to the sweet treats eat them and then redistribute the seeds through their droppings.
The oft-quoted advice of collecting cyclamen seed and sprinkling it around has never worked for me. The expanse of cyclamen in my own garden have been produced by simply letting nature do the work and (very occasionally) collecting and sowing the seed of a species I wanted to encourage.
When to plant and sow cyclamen
Cyclamen seed should be sown as soon as possible after it ripens in trays or shallow pans. I use John Innes seed compost with a small amount (about 10 per cent) of perlite and the same amount of leaf mould. The seed should be sown thinly and covered with about one centimetre of horticultural grit. Leave the containers in a shady place outside, keep the compost moist and wait. Germination is irregular, with some seedlings appearing after a couple of months and some waiting a year or so. Leave the young plants in the trays for a second year to develop a tuber and then plant out in the garden when they are dormant, roughly between May and August.
The ivy-foliage of Cyclamen hederifolium quickly follows the emergence of the flowers, making an attractive ground cover until the following spring. White, pink and ruby pink flowers appear from late August to the end of October. 10cm. RHS H5.
An autumn-flowering cyclamen species with flowers that are usually pale pink in colour and that have a sweet scent. Its leaves are rounded, serrated and imprinted with a frosted pattern that resembles a maple leaf. 10cm. RHS H4.
Cyclamen coum f. albissimum ‘Lake Effect’
A form with pure-white cyclamen flowers that unusually have no colouring on the base of the petals. The leaves are deep green with a leathery texture and no markings. Flowers from late December. 10cm. RHS H4.
Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Lysander’
The distinctive leaves of Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Lysander’ are perhaps the most showy of any cyclamen. They have deeply serrated, almost holly-like edges, which are dark green, while the centre is silver. Pale-pink flowers. 10cm. RHS H5.
Cyclamen coum Pewter Group
A variable group of Cyclamen coum. The best forms have pewter (not silver) leaves that have a thin margin and central midriff of green. The flowers range from pink to deep magenta. 10cm. RHS H5.
Cyclamen coum ‘Tilebarn Graham’
Its deep-pink flowers each have a dark-magenta blotch at the base of the petals, and are held above pewter-coloured leaves. Although the flowers are on the small side they are produced in abundance. 10cm. RHS H4.
Cyclamen coum subsp. caucasicum
A variable cyclamen group from the Caucasus that have heart-shaped leaves with a finely scalloped edge. There is usually a distinct dark stain in the centre. The flowers are squat and pale pink. 10cm. RHS H5.
An autumn-flowering species that originates from the island of Crete. It’s similar to Cyclamen hederifolium but has slightly larger flowers. The flowers have a delicious honey perfume and the leaves a glossy sheen. 10cm. RHS H4.
Cyclamen coum Silver Leaf Group
Attractive silver-grey cyclamen foliage with a rounded shape and slightly serrated edge. The flowers are generally shell-pink, but deep-magenta to rose-pink shades and white forms do occur. 10cm. RHS H5.
Cyclamen coum ‘Ashwood Snowflake’
Raised in 2007 at Ashwood Nurseries this cyclamen is difficult to get hold of but worth the search. Pure-white flowers open from pink-tinged buds. The pewter leaves have a dark-green centre. 10cm. RHS H5.
Cyclamen coum ‘Maurice Dryden’
A vigorous cyclamen cultivar that is widely available. The rounded leaves are a matt pewter colour with a dark-green edge, and the white flowers have a raspberry stain at the base. 10cm. RHS H5.
Cyclamen coum ‘Roseum’
Its official name of Cyclamen coum subsp. coum f. coum ‘Roseum’, is a long name for such a delicate plant. Its pale-pink flowers, held above small, rounded leaves, appear in December and last until March. 10cm. RHS H4.