The gems of autumn and winter are the miniature cyclamen. In my garden, at this time of year Cyclamen coum is in flower. Their colour is a crisp magenta. The bloom, less than a centimetre high, has petals folded like a napkin. It is raised on a slender stem but bows its head, gaze absorbed by its own beautiful foliage. The leaves, plump and rounded, are like fat rugby balls, patterned exquisitely in shades of green shaded from dark to cream; each individual a perfect miniature.
This small colony started over two decades ago. I bought a few large and hoary tubers from a basket displayed in a local hardware and gardening store, long deceased. I expensively added a few more, of modest proportions, bought at a garden centre. These tubers were planted in a difficult area, largely shaded by the vigorous many-stemmed hazel. The area is seldom watered in drought. They rapidly established themselves, self-seeding on the slate surface of a raised bed, in the crack between stepping stones, tangled in the roots of ornamental grasses and growing in a muddle with Arum italicum pictum which also self-seed there.
The Cyclamen hederifolium were started around the same time. Their leaves are generally larger, lobed and pointed, reminding me of heraldic shields. A few years ago I bought three upmarket silver-leaf forms at the Cyclamen show at Wisley. As ownership was transferred I was regarded doubtfully as an unsuitable custodian: “On no account put them outside till there’s no danger of frost”. They lingered in the conservatory for ages before the one-way ticket to the great outdoors. I think one died (or was eaten by mice) but the other two thrived. The best is in a hostile spot, inches from the base of the hazel. It is a large clump; the leaves have the same grey sheen as the costly cat-litter our old cat Derek required as a prerequisite to performance.
Now the showy seedlings are occasionally apparent, mostly in an uneasy jumble with the smaller Cyclamen coum. Though the autumn flowers are long gone, the foliage, joyously, remains.
A few years ago I decided it was advisable to establish two further colonies; one, in an exposed position, is struggling. The other is near the awkward, evergreen shade of a holly tree. The cyclamen like this spot and have begun to spread. Two days ago I moved a Hellebore out of their way. Another is poking its nose through the foliage of an established Pulmonaria. They are in that hinterland between cherished treasure and pernicious pest. Treasure wins, so far.
They are secretive, disappearing for months in summer and then looked for like the return of swallows. Perhaps they too, migrate.
Then, dabbling in the earth to plant bulbs in autumn I find a single hederifolium leaf. It is attached to a lax stem, several inches long, seeking light. The corm is smaller than a shirt button. I clear a space for it, and hope.
Susan A. Tindall