Thursday, 9 October 2014

Cyclamen: my autumn roses

I love the Spring: that particular vivid green show of new leaf, the promise of a twig, bare but for some shyly swelling copper buds bursting suddenly into a profusion of blossom, and most of all, the sudden proliferation of yellow narcissi after the dull grey or even white of a long, dark winter.

So when it’s autumn, what to do? Trees carry elderly, tired-looking foliage which will slowly give up and fall off, the veg has vegged, the few flowers that remain in my garden look leggy, seedy (in both senses) and frankly like it’s time to put on their slippers and have some hot cocoa. Everything seems to be saying – enough now – we’ve done our bit for the year - except for a small bright bunch of wild cyclamen shouting ‘We’re here! Look at us!’ under a bush in my front garden.

We’re not talking about any of the voluptuous pink-knickered cultivated varieties, which adorn your windowsill so brightly until they get bored and slump into a vulgar heap, but the small, dainty, wild types which grow in woodland, between mountain rocks and along gritty roadsides throughout the Mediterranean, where summers are arid and winters more temperate. Many cyclamen bloom, as a result of that climate, in the Autumn and are hardy enough to cope with our winters.

Essentially a woodland plant, as the trees above them shed their leaves and early autumn rains reach the earth below, the plants spring into life, flowers first, pink and white heads nodding on fragile stems. Then as they fade, the delicately patterned, highly decorative leaves give verdancy to the increasingly barren soil. In fact, it is the foliage which give a common autumnal variety its name - Cyclamen hederifolium – ‘ivy leaved’.

For years I have planted Spring bulbs everywhere I can so that they will give me the first hint of the wakening up of the soil and warmth in the air, announcing the coming of longer days and more sunshine, and I have completely overlooked softening the edges of the colder, shorter days by planting something which will cheerfully and robustly bloom in September.

From now on, though, I will build up my beds of wild cyclamen and will look forward to them as much as I do to daffodils.

To everything there is a season.

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