Wednesday, October 20, 2010
It’s cyclamen season! Just a week ago there was bare ground under the big brown turkey fig tree next to our back deck, but overnight a profusion of buds popped up through a layer of wood chip debris and today they’re making a beautiful display of lavender-pink flowers. Every time I see them bloom I realize once again that hardy cyclamens are one of my all-time favorite garden plants.
Hardy cyclamens look a lot like a slightly smaller version of the familiar florist plants that are sold everywhere, but they are basically the wild-type plant, descended from the cyclamen species that grow around the Mediterranean. Fortunately, they haven’t had all of their exceptionally good qualities bred out through hybridization to produce BIG flowers and grow (for a while, anyway) in pots in houses. Around here, they grow like weeds and spread their seeds around liberally so that a single plant soon becomes an impressive display of many. My oldest plant grows from an enormous tuber the size of a dinner plate, with an array of babies surrounding it. The leaves are absolutely gorgeous, mottled dark green, light green, and silvery. Different varieties have different leaf patterns, all extremely attractive. My plan is to keep buying a new plant every year to diversify the foliage patterns.
The leaves grow through the winter and spring, dying down completely during the summer when it’s dry. After the summer dormant period, the first thing that appears is the flowers, with the leaves following shortly thereafter. I can see the first leaves starting to emerge now.
And here’s the best part of all. Hardy cyclamens are deliciously fragrant! You have to get down close to them, but when you do - oh my lord! They smell like a fine perfume. I’ve read over and over that cyclamens have no fragrance, but even the florist variety has an unpleasant rubbery odor. The wild-type cyclamens have a beautiful, delicate fragrance that is partially captured in the aroma chemical cyclamen aldehyde, but is much more complex. If you see cyclamen listed as a perfumery note, it’s not someone’s wild imagination. There really is a cyclamen fragrance. You can bet that I’ll be out in the garden sniffing the cyclamens this fall.