The Winter Windowlegde Garden – Colour Comes First

cyclamenAfter an autumn that was more like summer, winter has finally arrived. The change came suddenly with a wild, wet and windy storm which I found oddly comforting because it meant I could at last embark on one of my favourite kinds of gardening – which all happens on my sunniest windowledges. If you think this sounds quaint, you should see what I can do with such a small space. In winter, I grow almost as much indoors as out!

With grey, cold days ahead, colour comes first, and to ensure this, I bring my cyclamen in from the cold. Some people simply biff their potted cyclamen at the end of the summer, but what a waste when all it takes is a little knowhow to recycle such an attractive pot plant. The secret to cyclamen success is to take the plant out of the house at the start of summer when its blooms look worse for wear and its leaves begin to yellow. Place it under a hedge or shrub – somewhere thoroughly dry. While the corm may appear lifeless as its leaves die off, it is actually resting, waiting for a cooler period and a little rain to revive it.

As the cooler season approaches (from autumn to the start of winter depending on where you live) lift the corm out of its container and repot it into a larger one. Although I usually eschew commercial garden products, I always use a store-bought potting mix for this job. Whatever mix you decide on, make sure it is able to hold water well but that it is also free draining. In the growing season, cyclamen are highly sensitive to both under and over watering.

Place the newly potted cyclamen, with its corm planted so that it sits about half a cm above the soil level, in a bowl of water to which has been added the tiniest pinch of soluble plant food (half strength feeding is best). Leave the cyclamen for a few hours to soak up the water, then place it on a saucer to let it drain thoroughly. I always tip out any water remaining in the saucer in case it is reabsorbed. It’s time to rewater again only when the potting mix is dry to the touch. Every 6-8 weeks (no more), I repeat the half strength feeding.

I keep my three gorgeous cyclamen in the living room during winter. Temperatures that are too high (over 20 C. during the day and 10 C. at night) will cause the leaves of the plant to yellow and its blooms to fade (this is because the plant senses summer is arriving). Because I live in a colder part of the country, I always move the cyclamen away from the windows at night, even though my home is double glazed.

Cyclamen bring such cheer to a house over winter and when they are well cared for, it is very satisfying to see them flower year after year. A friend, whose mother died some years ago, is greatly comforted by the fact that, each winter, she coaxes her mother’s beautiful red cyclamen into bloom. She says it is a reminder of her mother who passed onto her a love of gardening.

Whenever I am tempted to treat my cyclamen to more water or fertiliser than I know it actually wants, I try to remember the wild varieties I have seen so often in the mountains of Greece. They appear as if by magic between a cleft in the rock, far from water and in the most inhospitable of settings. These wild relatives of our domestic potted cyclamen light up their spartan surrounding just as they bring us great pleasure on the greyest of winter days.

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