My last post on hardy begonias sparked such interest and comments that I thought I would profile another unusual star performer for fall. Like the begonia, I learned about hardy cyclamen at a course I took at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, this one on bulbs in 1995. And just like the begonia, I couldn’t believe that there was a plant that looked like my florist cyclamen house plant but grew outside and came back every year. I talked about hardy cyclamen in my post on More Flowering Wintergreen Groundcovers for Shade, but I want to profile it in more detail here and include more photos.
There are several species of hardy cyclamen, but the two that are usually available are fall-blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and spring-blooming Cyclamen coum. I have them both and love them, but if you are just starting out, the fall-blooming variety is much easier to grow. Cyclamen coum requires the kind of excellent drainage rarely found in mid-Atlantic gardens. I grow mine most successfully in my rock garden and also less abundantly between tree roots.
The life cycle of hardy cyclamen is unusual. I guess you could say it begins in September when dozens of small pink flowers begin to bloom before the leaves emerge. Each flower is on a separate 4 ” stem and looks just like a miniature florist cyclamen flower with gorgeous reflexed petals. The flowers continue to be produced abundantly in succession through out the months of September and October and sometimes for parts of August and November too. They are said to be fragrant, but I have never noticed a scent.
I would grow hardy cyclamen just for the flowers, but the leaves are spectacular. They emerge slowly as the flowers are blooming in late September and take several weeks to reach their full size. “Variable” is an understatement to describe their wonderful shapes, patterns, and colors. They can be round to lance-shaped, lobed or entire, serrated or smooth edged, dark green to silver. And the patterns on the leaves are indescribable, I will just have to show you….
Now that you have seen how gorgeous the leaves are, you will be able to truly appreciate another of their wonderful qualities: they stay green and fresh all winter! The photos above were taken in November but I could just as easily have captured their glory in March. Instead of going dormant in the winter like most of our plants, hardy cyclamen goes dormant for a few months during the summer.
There is a lovely white cultivar of fall-blooming hardy cyclamen called ‘Album’. Some of mine have pure white flowers and others have white with a pink blotch. It is just as hardy as the parent species and seeds around my garden readily.
Hardy cyclamen is native to western Turkey, eastern Europe, including Albania, Bulgaria, and the Balkans, and southern Europe, including France, Italy, and Greece. It is a woodland plant that requires good drainage and shade. In fact it thrives on summer drought in dry shade. Although it likes to grow between tree roots and rocks, I have success with it in any shaded eastern facing, dry location. As you can see from the photo below, my plants seed prolifically and eventually fill in to make a solid mat of groundcover.
Hardy cyclamen grows from a corm, which reportedly can reach the size of a dinner plate when old. There are growing points all over the top of the corm. If you try starting the plant this way, plant the corms with no more than 1″ of soil on top plus a very light mulch of leaf litter. I have never done this because I have read many times that dried corms do not establish well and are often collected from the wild. I started all my patches from established potted plants and that is how I sell hardy cyclamen at my nursery. Look for it in my 2013 Snowdrop Catalogue.
The hardiness zone information for hardy cyclamen is inconsistent. Some sources say USDA zones 7 to 9. The Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder lists it for zones 5 to 9, while other sources say it grows successfully in upstate NY in zone 4. You will just have to try it. For all my UK readers, hardy cyclamen received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
P.S. When I pushed the Publish button, I found out that this is my hundredth post—kind of exciting!!!
Nursery Happenings: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is done for the fall. Thanks for a great year. See you in spring 2013.
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