There is an old saying, ‘plant pears for heirs’ and it is certainly true that gardening is, more often than not, an exercise in delayed gratification. The duration of the delay differs depending on what is being planted, but instant results are few and far between. I have needed to remind myself of this every autumn when I have been planting Cyclamen coum. The tubers arrive from the wholesaler, looking dead and starting to wizen like forgotten potatoes. The day before I am intending to plant them, I pop them in a bucket and fill it with water and by the next morning they have plumped into flattened doughnuts of still dead-looking, slightly scaly brown lumps. They are very unpromising.
I plant them 5cm/2″ deep under trees and in the front of shrub beds as they prefer semi-shade. Planting them at that depth ensures that they don’t dry out or get disturbed, but they seem to move themselves to the surface, and certainly those which grow by themselves from seed are always thus. It is not always easy to plant Cyclamen. The tubers produce roots from the bottom and flowers and leaves from the top, but in their dormant state, it can be tricky to tell which way is up. It becomes an exercise in self-forgiveness as I know I will make mistakes. I plant them and forget about them, and the cycle of the year moves on.
Cyclamen coum is native to the Caucasus with a separate population through the Lebanon and down into Israel. It tolerates all soils and is hardy down to -15 Celsius, although its preference for growing under trees and shrubs means it gains further protection from the cold. Its common name eastern sowbread suggests it has had a traditional role in pig-husbandry, when woodland grazing was the norm rather than the exception. In the English garden, mice, voles, and grey squirrels are the most frequent consumers.
In late winter, on a sunny day, when I am out in the garden mooching, there they are suddenly, my forgotten landmines of colour, exploding in bright sparks of magenta and pink, bringing light to shady corners. Lines of R.S Thomas’s poem The Garden come to mind – these are, The silent detonations/ Of power wielded without sin. And I remember past loves, and smile in my solitude.