And the garden

When modern architecture goes outside

Pinheads and Dinnerplates


Hardy cyclamen are wonderful plants, quite unlike their trashy indoor cousins.

I have a particular weakness for scent, autumn colour and plants with winter interest, and although unscented the ivy-leaved (or Neapolitan) cyclamen excels in the latter two categories, sending up its charming pink recurved flowers in the autumn, and most obligingly holding on to its heart shaped leaves, intricately marked with silver, over the winter months, shedding them over the summer when their absence goes unnoticed in the midst of all the other star horticultural performances.

cyclamen in planter

I really should investigate Cyclamen coum, which flowers from December to March and would take over nicely from the September to November flowering of C. hederifolium, but I have read that if planted together C. coum will in time (which is relative – centuries, probably) come to dominate, so I will have to wait to find a source and a good spot.  However their circular leaves are unmarked and nowhere near as interesting.

The greatest downside of C. hederifolium, if one wants a swathe of them (and who would not?), is their cost.  Even my first choice of bulb supplier, Peter Nyssen, was charging over £1 per tuber.  At this point, I turned my beady and acquisitive eye towards my unsuspecting mother.  My mother is not a gardener but she is hugely generous of spirit and has a lovely garden, blessed with great drifts of hellebores and, I remembered covetously, hardy cyclamen.

When we were building the house and lived for almost five years in rented accommodation with a pocket handkerchief of a garden, she made me up a horticultural care parcel containing plants from her garden which I arranged together in a planter and which lifted my frustrated gardening spirits no end.  (In the preceding sentence I use the term  ‘made me up’ as a euphemism for ‘allowed me to plunder her garden during one of my visits, digging up what I wanted, and leaving it for her to wrap in damp newspaper and post them all up to me in a cardboard box’.) There were a number of cyclamen tubers in this planter, and I had noticed that the flowers had set seed – those seedpods on curious little coiled springs – and that many had germinated into seedlings, a year or so old.  I resolved to turn out the planter, carefully, and prick out the seedlings into a tray of jiffy modules – why, I would soon have hundreds of hardy cyclamen.  Pricking out seedlings is soothing pastime, providing one sets up the bench or table to avoid being hunched over and getting a crick in the neck or between the shoulder blades, and I spent a restful and virtuous sunny October afternoon doing just that.

IMG_5880      IMG_5882

Pleased though I was with my labours, I recognised that it would be many years before the pinhead sized tubers produced any flowers, so I turned once more to my mother and asked her, with what I hoped was engaging directness, whether she would dig up some more tubers and send me them (or ‘instruct Tim who comes on Wednesdays to dig up etc’). Again she obliged, and Parcelforce duly delivered two boxes filled with magnificent tubers, some bigger than my hand (see photo below).  I have no idea how old they are, and while the literature relates how they can grow to the size of dinner plates, I have found nothing that gives a timescale for this development. Readers, if you can shed some light, I would be delighted to hear from you.


The tubers themselves are odd, unpromising things, with hardly any roots, and it is difficult to imagine them ‘throwing up hundreds of flowers’ per tuber, as the books would have them do.  Bought dormant from bulb suppliers, many have no roots at all and it is often difficult to know which way up to plant them.  Planting any bulb, I think, is an act of faith, but cyclamen require belief of Orpheus-like proportions.

Out of curiosity, I also ordered some tubers from Peter Nyssen to compare, and a plant from Crocus, and then succumbed to buying some more tubers when I was in Dobbies (despite the recent mis-labeled anemone experience), to see which would  give me the best results for my time, effort and money.  Contenders in my unofficial and woefully unscientific hardy cyclamen trial are:

1) Five dormant tubers from Peter Nyssen (photo below left) – £6.50

2) Five dormant tubers from Dobbies garden centre (photo below right) – under £10

Nyssen cyclamen tubers     Cyclamen tubers Dobbies Taylors

3) Two boxes of tubers from my mother’s garden, semi-dormant (i.e. freshly dug up and showing some signs of root or leaf growth) – free, but clearly not everyone has access to such cyclamenic munificence

4) 300+ seedlings – free, ditto

5) A plant in a 9cm pot from Crocus (photo below) – £2.99

crocus cyclamen small

The plant (by its very definition in a non-dormant state) from Crocus was the real surprise, with that little 2cm tuber throwing up dozens of leaves and all those fine root hairs.  If the dormant tubers lumber into life with anything near this fecundity I shall have veritable carpets of cyclamen, I’m just finding it incredibly hard to believe this with any conviction. Having planted them this winter – a bit shriveled and apparently dessicated, with their crowns just below the surface of the soil and hopefully the right way up – I am not sure when I should expect signs of life, especially since winter is normally their non-dormant season.  Might I have to wait until September to see the first leaves? I just know I will not be able to resist digging one of them up to check whether root development is actually happening, and I hope this doubter’s impatience will not irretrievably damage the plant*.

I went to check on the tubers from my mother that I planted in the beds under the pleached limes, only to find to my annoyance that their stems have been neatly severed, and a few leaves left on top of the mulch.  The culprits are our resident rabbits, and I will position some cloches over the cyclamen while I hone my plans for a multi-pronged attack on the blasted creatures.

I will update this post with progress on the plants over the course of the year.  Yes, you have heard me say that before, but remember this is still a very young blog.  You may or may not have noticed that I have resorted to copying and pasting comments under my WordPress posts that dear and valued readers have put on my Facebook page.  I have been wondering what I could do to attract more comments, suggestions and questions to these posts – I would love to get some dialogue going. Is it because WordPress requires some horrid sign in process?  Clearly, if this is the case then you are hardly likely to sign in in order to tell me so.  If you prefer, you could tweet me @AndTheGarden?  Perhaps this too is merely a matter of time, and comments will emerge in the natural order of things. Or, for that matter, not.


* Should I ever be in the privileged position to name a new species of cyclamen, I shall call it Cyclamen eurydice, and take my chances at being smacked in the face for being such a smart arse.


6 thoughts on “Pinheads and Dinnerplates

  1. I live in awe of that gigantic tuber. I tried planting C. hederifolium once but in a too dry spot, so only had one successful flower before never seeing it again. I have to find another location before I try again. Regarding blog posts. I read in a feed reader, and so greatly prefer having a new post to an update on an older post; I’d never see the updated post. In keeping a garden record, I can see how having updates on older posts may be preferable.

    At least so far, commenting isn’t horrid, just leads to being self-conscious of my spelling and grammar.

    • How lovely to hear from you – I know just what you mean about commenting, and still cannot remember without actually writhing in my chair the time I commented ‘Louis 15th’ instead of ‘XV’, and – whisper it – used ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’. (I was chopping a paragraph around with cut and paste, Your Honour, and it just slipped through….) And that is an extremely useful remark about updated posts – would it work if I were to update it once, after a full 12 months say, and include the news that it has been updated (with a link) in a new post?

      I think bulbs/tubers/corms etc. are far more exacting about their conditions than woody plants. A woody plant can limp on for years in sub-optimal conditions, photosynthesizing just enough to survive, but anything that dies back completely seems just not to bother coming back after its first unhappy season. Hmm. I wonder if this applies to herbaceous too. Shall give it some thought and observation. In a perverse way I am glad to hear that your C. hederifolium hated the dry conditions, because I have planted mine in a distinctly damp site, occasionally verging on boggy. For this reason, I have braced myself for the non-emergence of the drifts of Crocus I interplanted them with – I fear it’s way too wet for Crocus but if you don’t experiment you’ll never know.

  2. Hi – posting as my sister’s house that i manage booking for in Nethy Bridge but its really me, Susan Baldwin…. I cannot be bothered to log out and create another ID!! I love cyclamen but they always die on me in the house. Am inspired to go and find some hardy ones . I have a feeling my Mum grew them in our garden in Edinburgh. She’d love this blog. I have just created a veg patch (well we’ve had some help with our reliable builders who have rebuilt fence and brought in the top soil etc!) so I am going to be trying to grow a few more veg this year rather than just the reliable courgettes & lettuce etc. Thought though that to keep the patch interesting throughout the year, I would plant flowers too in the bed. Come for coffee soon!

    • Thanks Susan for your lovely words. You are starting in the best possible way with your veg patch, since the ground prep is not only the most crucial element necessary for success, but the hardest slog too. The sheer JOY of being able to plant things into a weedfree friable tilth, rather than having to jump up and down on the spade to get some purchase, and the back breaking job of clearing the soil of weeds that if left will out-compete one’s own plants. With your two girls, I would usually advise strawbs and raspbs, but we are surrounded by such excellent growers here in Fife that maybe a row of peas (for eating straight out of the pod), and nasturtiums whose peppery flowers can be torn up and added to salads (some little violas also – I can let you have some). You are in perfect time to plant a row (has to be a row, so you don’t feel bad about picking them) of lilies for cutting, and get some sweetpea seeds into modules now for the best ever posies (soak them overnight to get them going faster). Oh and an ornamental climbing gourd for fun Halloween decorations – do you have enough space for sweetcorn? Next week good for me, coffee wise – would love to see your garden plans.

  3. I don’t know the answer to Comments and Dialogue on a blog. I see many worth articles on blogs, the first few comments are answered by the author and then the rest go silent. I have little confidence that if I know the answer to someone’s question that they would ever get notification and thus return to read my answer; my preference would be for a Forum which is so much better equipped for discussion than Blog comments. I’ve never gravitated to Facebook, but I do have gardening chums that do – but it seems to me that Facebook conversations are scattered all over various individual “blogs” on Facebook, so not much different to comments on regular Blogs. Whereas a Forum has a group of like minded hobbyists discussing all sorts of things gardening-related. I have yet to find a Forum that has a well-created blog facility on the same site.

    The approach I have taken in my blog (also hosted on WordPress, like yours) is to have permanent, and evolving, “article pages” about specific aspects of my garden. A particular Border or Project, for example. And then I post Blog Posts about specific things, often just a teaser for an update in a Blog Page Article, with a link to it (direct to the “new bit” so folk don’t have to wade through the older stuff they have read before). My intention, but I have no idea if it works!!, is that a new reader can read about a project from inception-to-now whereas a returning reader would see an updated Blog post, and if interested follow the link to the new part of the page article.

    Finally, for my sins, I try to make a “tour” once a year that links all the updated sections of the Page Articles so that followers can see what I’ve been up to; that tends to accompany an annual uploading of current-year-photos showing how much growth things have made, and the successes and failures of previous attempts.

    But I would definitely like a better way of doing it, my way is a lot of manual labour and editing, albeit that, personally, I don’t mind that.

    • I hope you can forgive my delay in replying to your thoughtful comments – I’m afraid I got them just as events overwhelmed me. I am looking forward to mulling them over and responding in the coming week as I come home to my blog.

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