January’s star plant: Cyclamen coum

By mid-winter, most of our gardens are sad and colourless. Let’s face it: winter interest in a small garden is tricky. It’s difficult to justify setting aside large areas for plants which look lovely in winter but a bit ‘meh’ the rest of the year. (Dogwoods – I’m talking about you…)

But Cyclamen coum will bring a lively splash of colour throughout winter – and it’s small enough to squeeze into the tiniest of suburban gardens.

What is Cyclamen coum?

Most of us are more familiar with Bedding or Florists’ cyclamen. These have large flowers in a range of bright colours and are sold in garden centres in autumn. Bedding cyclamen are great for winter pot displays – much nicer, I think, than pansies or violas. However, they’ll be killed by a hard frost.

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum is the Bedding cyclamen’s daintier cousin. Indeed, put them side by side and the Bedding cyclamen suddenly look a bit trashy. What’s more, Cyclamen coum will come back year after year whatever the weather and survive the harshest frost. Specimens are known to live up to 100 years!

The flowers of Cyclamen coum range from white to deep pink, and appear from December through to March. The pretty, heart-shaped leaves often have silver markings. Put Cyclamen coum somewhere you’ll see them in winter: mine are outside the kitchen window where I can enjoy the sight of them on the darkest and dullest of January days.

How to grow Cyclamen coum:

Knowing the origins of a plant helps understand how to grow it. Cyclamen coum originates from mountainous regions adjoining the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. So they’re unbothered by cold winters, but dislike waterlogging. If you’ve got heavy soil, improve drainage by digging in some extra organic material, such as compost or horse manure. Alternatively, plant them on a bank or in a raised bed.

Cyclamen coum are incredibly easy to grow. They prefer dappled shade and so you can plant them under deciduous trees where little else will flourish. On the other hand, mine grow happily in pretty much full sun and are ignored by slugs and snails.

Once you’ve planted Cyclamen coum, that’s it. They don’t really need feeding unless your soil is very poor. The leaves will disappear in summer – don’t worry (as I did, the first year after I planted mine!) they are fine, and will reappear in autumn. But it’s a good idea to mark where they are, so you don’t accidentally hoe or dig them up.

How to buy Cyclamen coum:

All cyclamen grow from corms (disk-shaped bulbs). However, unlike bulbs such as daffodils or camassias, it’s best to buy Cyclamen coum as potted plants. They’re more expensive bought this way, but will self seed and in a few years you’ll have plenty.

You can buy the corms (bulbs) of Cyclamen coum online or sometimes from garden centres but I wouldn’t recommend it. You could be wasting your money as the corms dislike being dried out, and may not grow.

If you want something more special, a number of cultivars are available. Try Cyclamen coum Pewter Group or Cyclamen coum ‘Maurice Dryden’. Both of these have been awarded the AGM by the Royal Horticultural Society, which means they’re strong, reliable and healthy plants. Ashwood Nurseries have a good selection of Cyclamen coum to buy online if you can’t find them at your local garden centre or nursery.

How to propagate Cyclamen coum:

Cyclamen coum can’t be propagated by division or cuttings but self seed easily. You’ll need at least 2 plants, as cyclamen need a second plant for fertilization to take place. Watch out for the seeds, as cyclamen seed stalks are one of nature’s delights: they curl like springs, each holding a spherical capsule.

Cyclamen coum seedlingInside the capsule are clusters of sugar-coated seeds, which get carried away by ants. This clever trick means the seeds are dispersed over a wide area, and you’ll notice tiny heart-shaped leaves popping up all over your garden. If they’re in the wrong place you can prick them out and either plant them elsewhere if they’re big enough, or pot them on to plant out later (as I’ve just done). You’ll need patience though: it can take a couple of years for the infant plant to flower.

If you have two different cultivars, they will cross-fertilize and you can’t be sure what you’ll end up with. If this would bother you, then you just need to make sure that all the plants you buy are the same kind.

Many plants provide winter interest. But few of them offer so much, with so little effort, as this small but perfect garden gem.

More information about Cyclamen coum:

Graham Rice talks about Cyclamen coum

The Cyclamen Society

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