Thursday’s Feature: Cyclamen purpurascens

It’s time to get back into the saddle.  I’ve enjoyed telling the woeful tales of drought and loss in my garden and appreciated the kind words, but it’s time to stop the shameless pandering for sympathy and suck it up.  I’m sure most gardeners will agree that there’s nothing better for a poor attitude than a new plant, so I ordered a couple iris, planned a trip to the nursery, and I think I’m good 🙂

So first things first I’m joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday’s Feature and highlighting one of the little treasures which don’t seem to care much about a few sunny days and a bit of heat.  This week’s plant is that hardiest of hardy cyclamen, Cylamen purpurascens.


Blooming this week in the dry shade beneath the weeping cherry is Cyclamen purpurascens. I like the slight streaking and chunky flowers of this one.

Besides being a hardy plant ((the cyclamen society’s website lists this plant as tolerant of temperatures down to -4F… and my own plants have easily endured -9F without significant snow cover) this plant also has the distinction of retaining foliage year round.  Even now during he worst of summer the beautifully marked and mottled foliage lights up the gloomiest of dry shade locations.

hardy cyclamen purpurascens foliage

Cyclamen purpurascens has the typically beautiful foliage shared by many of the cyclamen family, and the range of patterns is always amazing.

It also has the distinction of blooming now.  The flowers won’t blow you away until they come by the hundreds (which I’m hoping for someday), but for now the little splashes of color are a welcome relief for summer weary shade gardens.

cyclamen purpurascens

A more typical Cyclamen purpurascens flower with pink color and open, twisted petals. 

For more expert information and growing requirements I’d recommend the cyclamen society’s website, but from my own experience I find this cyclamen to be a little fussier and much slower growing than the others and also a plant which actually seems to welcome a good freeze in the winter.  Seedlings which I protected indoors really sulked until I threw them outside for the coldest months.

Mine were raised from seed, but honestly this is one cyclamen I’d have no problem buying as a plant.  Germination takes a year, it’s another year before they do any serious growing, another two or so years for a bloom if you’re not the most attentive grower, and then even the seeds take over a year to ripen before you can try for the next batch.  We’re not getting any younger, so save yourself a few years and buy a couple plants from John Lonsdale at Edgewood gardens.  For a plant which you probably won’t find anywhere else $12 a pop seems like a bargain to me and I’m a relatively cheap guy.

When you’re done with that give Kimberley a visit and see what else is on the radar this Thursday (or practically Friday as I look at the clock).  There’s always something interesting to be had and I know you won’t regret it!

Did I do that?

This box showed up on my doorstep Friday and it’s bursting at the seams with colchicum flowers!  The wise gardener orders these bulbs well in advance of autumn so that this scene takes place in the well prepared garden bed, but the procrastinating gardener takes the risk and begs via email for a late order and shipment.colchicums blooming before planting

I may have gone through this kind of poor planning before, so the bare-bulb blooms are no big surprise or worry, but the show would have been ten times better had the bulbs already been planted.  But this order was the result of panic.  A couple weeks ago I realized I didn’t have anywhere near as many colchicums as a self respecting colchicum lover should have, so I immediately went to Daffodils and More, David Burdick’s bulb website.  He dabbles in the colchicums, has an excellent selection, and after a couple emails back and forth I was able to convince him to part with a few, even though they were already headed into blooming stage (as you can see, they don’t need soil or planting in order to bloom!).  They arrived at my doorstep even before my check was cashed and I have to say they’re the best cared for colchicums I have ever received.  Instead of looking worse for their journey they’re already planted in the ground and settling in.  newly planted colchicums

I was halfway tempted to keep them in the box and have them close enough to examine day or night while blooming, but better judgment won out and they were planted the next day.  I just need some groundcover ideas.  Some nice companion plantings would surely make this bed look even better as the bulbs clump up.

This info might be a little too late, but I noticed Brent and Becky’s bulbs just put their colchicums on sale for 50% off. It’s a great deal (and the source of many of my own bulbs) but most have already sold out…. but there are a couple left, and it’s not that I want to encourage any late season colchicum incidents in your own garden, but colchicum byzantinum and colchicum ‘giant’ are two of my favorites……

The cyclamen are back

It’s raining this evening and I hope this finally takes us out of the summer long drought we’ve been limping through.  The rain will hopefully soften the rock hard soil and usher in a nice gentle season of planting and transplanting.  Somehow the cyclamen knew the calendar had turned to fall, in spite of the heat and drought they’ve been sprouting up amongst the dry, dead leaves and giving fresh hope for fall.cyclamen hederifolium patch

pink cyclamen hederifoliumNothing else grows in the dry shade of this weeping cherry, but the cyclamen don’t seem to mind.  The cyclamen hederifolium  normally come into bloom now, some years earlier, some later, but they always seem to know summer is winding down.  Usually the flowers come up before the leaves even show, but I like it when the two appear at the same time.fall cyclamen blooms

The colors range from white to dark purple and this planting was really starting to look good until some kind of basketball/wagon/quad/bicycle incident at dusk.  There might be some recovery but right now most are crushed or have a ‘windswept’ look.white cyclmen hederifolium

All of these are from seed.  My introduction to these plants came from a friend who sent me a mixed packet to try out.  I planted them in the fall and was amazed to see them sprout during the winter on a cold windowsill and start showing off their fancy little leaves…. until I killed most of them when I left the pot out during a hard freeze.

cyclamen hederifoliumBut gardeners are nothing if not resilient, so next fall I planted a whole new batch of seeds from Green Ice Nursery in the Netherlands.  They were more than amazing.  I grew them under lights in the cool of the basement, repotted them for the next year, put them out for the summer and even enjoyed some flowers that fall.  Another winter indoors and I was starting to recover from the pain of killing off my first batch.

That summer I potted up the best looking ones into individual pots to really get the full effect.  I could admire the individual plants and their cool leaves this way.  (by the way, chicken grit -available at feed stores- makes the perfect pot topper for these guys)cyclamen hederifolium seedlings

pink hardy cyclamen A few really stood out.  This one was a nicely colored, heavy bloomer that sent up plenty of foliage as a backdrop for the two toned flowers.

Things were going really well until it came time to move them in.  I couldn’t find enough room for what was now about 80 pots in all kinds of sizes.  So I crossed my fingers, dug them in for the winter in a sheltered spot, and hoped for the best.

While hope may spring eternal, its got to make it through winter first.  Between January and August I again lost most of my little cyclamen, and as of today this is what remains.  Maybe 15 of the original 80 plants still survive.potted cyclamen hederifolium

cyclamen seedlingsBut never fear, any healthy new obsession involves overkill, and you can bet that even though I’ve lost so many there are also so many more coming along.  Here are last winter’s new seedlings growing happily.  They are courtesy the N. American Rock Gardens Society’s annual seed exchange.  Members donate seeds in the fall and other members such as myself reap the rewards during the winter exchange.  For a pittance to cover postage you can pick up all kinds of new and unusual plant seeds, many of which are just not available elsewhere.

Besides the exchange, there’s also the possibility I broke down last winter and ordered even more seeds from Green Ice.  Jan Bravenboer of Green Ice must have a great eye for cyclamen, so many of his strains seem to be one in a million plants picked out from here and there across Europe.  I had to get just a few more which are sprouting now, and I’m glad I did.  Changes in the inspection policies of the EU have made the certificates on small orders such as mine way too expensive for honest buyers/sellers.fall cyclamen seedlings

coiled up cyclamen seed podsThe seeds in themselves are cool too.  When cyclamen blooms are pollinated, the flower stalk curls up and the growing seed pod is snuggled down into the mulch next to the plant.  There they sit safely tucked in until the seeds ripen.

There are other cyclamen that overwinter just fine (when planted properly) in my zone 5/6ish garden.  The patterned waterlily shaped leaves below belong to cyclamen coum, which is setting buds for Feb/March blooming, and the smaller silvery leaves bottom right belong to cyclamen purpurescens.cyclamen coum leaves

The summer blooming C. Purpurescens might be the hardiest of them all.  I’m having a little trouble making it happy but I think once established it will settle into a zone 4 garden without trouble, and you can enjoy the leaves all year as they don’t die back like many of the other types.

I’m afraid I’ve gone on too long again.  It’s Sunday morning and the rain is finished and the birds are all over the place.  Time to head out there and check things out.  I’ll bore you with many more cyclamen in the future, trust me.



Thinking of next year yet?

I’m still in denial that summer is winding down.  Every sunny day and higher temperature reading gives me hope the warmth is still holding on, but eventually I’ll need to come to terms with winter’s approach.  My least favorite season is just about here and it’s time to shake off that summertime laziness and start making plans.

By least favorite season I mean fall.  I dread the fall shutdown that plants go through and the first frost.  Even  the fall foliage looks to me like death warmed over.  The best thing about fall is all the planting, and for hardy bulbs fall is the number one planting season.  Although I was lost in tulips this spring, it’s daffodils that I really like, and in order to convince you to get more too I dredged up a couple pictures from the good old days of spring.daffodil accent

‘Accent “(1960- the year this daff was registered) is a great daffodil, it has a medium pink cup (corona) surrounded by pure white petals (perianth).  The color is reliable, the plant is reliable, and it’s not too hard to find.  I like fancy things too, but reliable fills a garden every spring with beautiful blooms, and in this next (over exposed) picture “accent” is paired with another great, reliable one (and one of my real favorites) “Tahiti”(1956).

daffodil tahiti and accent

daffodil pink charmThere are thousands of named daffodils out there and thousands of ways to pick the best ones for your garden.  Picking up a bag at the box store is fine and inexpensive and a good starting point but if you begin to get serious take a look at the Wister Award winners.  It’s an American Daffodil Society award for outstanding garden daffodils and will give you a shopping list of the best daffodils for your garden.

Another good pink is “Pink Charm” (1977), it’s a little newer than “accent” and only just a bit different with more white in the cup, but for two years I’ve been impressed with the opening color and then the later blend of pink fading to white in the center.daffodil pink charm

“Passionale”(1956) is a strong growing older pink.  The flowers open with a yellowish tint to the cup which is common for these older varieties.  In daffodils, pink is a relatively new color for breeders, and it’s been a long journey to separate the color and strengthen it to a ‘real’ pink color.daffodil passionale

Daffodil breeders are always tinkering with their favorites but they generally fall into 13 divisions.  To take a look at some of the fanciest and newest examples of each division click here“Palmaries”(1973) falls into the split cup category.  It’s frillier and flouncier than what I usually like, but it has been doing well in my garden.daffodil palmaries

“Newcomer”(1992) has the saturated darker pink of a newer introduction.  It won’t be an easy daff to find but does show the long lasting pure colors of a modern daffodil.daffodil newcomer

“Sagitta”(2007) shows one of the newest combinations, yellow-pink.  This one will likely be a very popular daffodil, so far it’s been a great grower, multiplier, and bloomer for me and I love it.daffodil sagitta

But there’s nothing wrong with a yellow trumpet daffodil.  Since “King Alfred” was registered in 1899 new yellow daffodils continue to come out with stronger blooms, colors, and growth habits.  The true King Alfred is tough to find today since years of slapping the name onto any yellow daffodil has muddied the water, but with so many solid yellows such as “Primeur”(1978), how can you go wrong?daffodil primeur

daffodil peeping tomMy favorite group of daffodils are the cyclamineus types.  Daffodils in this group all share the reflexed petals and long trumpets of the original narcissus cyclamineus species.  “Peeping Tom” (1948) is on the top of my list, it’s an oldie but I love the long trumpet, wide flare and early bloom season.

Another one in this group that’s doing well for me is “Jetfire” (1966).  It’s a good grower with a little orange in the trumpet (more so in cooler springs) but it’s a little stubbier and shorter than “Peeping Tom”.daffodil jetfire

daffodil wisleyIf you can’t find “Peeping Tom” (I don’t see it in many catalogs any more) you could try out one of it’s children.  “Wisley”(2004) comes from the seeds of a Peeping Tom cross.  It’s new for me, but the flowers have a love-it or hate-it look that I’m still trying to figure out.

If you’re ever looking for daffodil info, Daff Seek pretty much has it all.  It’s the searchable database of the American Daffodil Society and has photos and information on most registered daffodils…. plus interesting tidbits such as daffodil lineage and breeding info.

My latest color craze has been the yellow red combo.  “Serola”(1986) is a great one that multiplies well, doesn’t fade in the sun, and is bright!daffodil serola

daffodil montego“Montego” (1968) has the same colors in a smaller rim of red.  I might have gone overboard with this color range in the last few years but I really do like them.  If you’re unsure where to start with your own daffodil quest, but ready to move past the generic offerings, start with  Brent and Becky’s.  Even if you end up ordering elsewhere, they probably offer the best selection of good varieties and don’t carry the duds.  Some of the best sources for bulk daffodils are Van Engelen and Colorblends.  Just be careful, before you know it you’ll be looking up the specialists such as Mitsch’s and Cherry Creek and really killing your gardening budget.

Ok one more yellow-red.  “Molten Lava” (1987) has slightly more subtle coloring, but still rich tones. daffodil molten lava

White never goes out of style and “Misty Glen” (1976) is a great daffodil in white.  Over 40 other registered daffodils trace their roots to this variety and it’s won many awards.  It’s one of the best daffodils.daffodil misty glen

daffodil excitementIf you still don’t feel the need to add more daffodils, here’s another try.  The small cupped daffodils such as “excitement” (2001) also come in all kinds of color combos just like the big guys.

Beyond the big and little cups and the trumpets there are still thousands of “other” daffodils out there.  They’re all just different expressions of the genus Narcissus.  The name daffodil is just a common name most people apply to the bigger trumpet sorts but it works for all of them.

Some of the other types have unique traits that can be traced back to one of the original narcissus species. “Geranium” (pre 1930) is a reliable, hardy tazetta type which shows the clustered blooms and fragrance of this of this group.  I might put this one on my top 10 best daffodil list, but with so many new types to distract me, I sometimes forget about the multiple award winners like Geranium. daffodil geranium

Paperwhites are a well known member of the tazetta group, they’re just not hardy enough to grow up in this part of Pennsylvania.  One that does suffer through is “Erlicheer” (pre 1951), it’s listed as a double but tazetta blood runs through it’s veins.  The problem for me with Erlicheer is its early sprouting habit anytime there’s a break in winter temperatures.  You can see how all the leaf tips have been burnt by cold snaps that came along after growth started.  Too much cold combined with too active growth will eventually kill these.  Sometimes erlicheer is sold as a “summer daffodil” because they don’t need the deep freeze of winter in order to bloom.  You can plant them in the spring, have summer flowers, but they’ll be back to normal spring flowering the following year.  daffodil erlicheer

I never meant for this to be such a long post, but daffodils are so easy to grow…… and I admit I’m slightly addicted.

Here’s an example of one of the poeticus types.  “Pentucket” (pre 1946) might be hard to find, but there are several look alikes out there.  Poeticus daffodils (the Poet narcissus) have been grown since ancient times and are most likely the daffodil referenced in Greek poetry and myth.  Today they are grown by the perfume industry for the narcissus oil they produce and apparently it’s one of the most popular fragrances…. oddly enough I don’t pick up much scent in these.

daffodil pentucket

daffodil baby boomer

So plan ahead for spring and get some more daffodils in the ground!  Even if it’s a dainty non-daff like “Baby Boomer” (pre 2008) they’re all equally easy to plant.  I find the easiest method to plant daffodils is to take out the big shovel, scoop out one or two shovel-fulls of dirt, dump the bulbs in, and cover.  You don’t need to set the bulbs correctly (although I usually do put them pointy side up) and your regular soil should be fine without improvements, just get them in the ground!

Good luck, and I’d love to hear how your bulb ordering and planting is going:)