Colour the winter with cyclamen

In the garden, or as a temporary houseplant, cyclamen brighten up the dark months.

Plants that flower in the dark winter months are to be cherished, and perhaps cyclamen especially so. I have never done particularly well with potted cyclamen for the house, then I read that the florists' cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum is 'best treated as a temporary house plant, to be brought into the house just as the buds open, enjoyed while flowering and discarded'.

As house guests, they are really quite difficult, with their demands for light, heat and water. Contrast this with cyclamen that can be grown outside where the experience is quite different. Cyclamen hederifolium is sufficiently well established in the wild to be considered a naturalised alien. In Wales it has been recorded growing throughout the principality.

These pretty flowers thrive under the shelter of trees and large shrubs, which provide them with shade from the hot sun and shelter from the winds. C.hederifolium (previously known as C.neapolitanum reflecting its Italian origins) is hardy and typically flowers between August and November. Its leaves are deep green with silvery markings above and red beneath. When the leaves wither and die, sometime around May, the plants can be covered with an inch of leaf mould.

I have often quoted from the writings of Vita Sackville-West of Sissinghurst, but seldom from Margery Fish of East Lambrook Manor in Somerset. Like Vita Sackville-West, she was a gardener of the second half of the 20th century. She too created a garden from very little, one that has long outlived her own life. She too was a gardener writer of great renown.

But Vita Sackville-West was aristocratic in every sense of the word and appeared so. Mrs Fish had no such breeding and was thoroughly middle class. Her garden was much smaller, more intimate, much more the cottage garden. She loved cyclamen and wrote of the cerise coloured C coum 'to see C.coum in full flower on a winter's morning is something you will never forget'.

Mrs Fish made specific contributions to the body of horticultural knowledge in the areas of shade gardening and most particularly ground cover. It may sound arcane but actually, of course, dense carpeting of ground cover can be a very labour-saving device for the busy doctor. Her book on ground cover plants deals with every situation with plenty of plant suggestions.

On a quite separate issue, but one of great importance if you are affected, a good friend and colleague emailed me about his problem with deer. The British Deer Society has useful pages on the subject, including signs that identify your culprit as deer (frayed ends to chewed plants rather than rabbit's neat cuts) and lists plants that deer like (bluebells, clematis and rose) and those that they do not (hosta and hydrangea, iris and lavender).

Methods that have been tried include scaring them away and chemical repellents which are just not very successful - all things from human hair to mothballs are championed by some.

Although I live within a stones throw of the largest herd of deer in southern England, kept in one of the country's largest deer parks, they are not a problem to me. Both they, and I, are nicely closed in - they by wire and me by my high brick garden wall. And there, I am afraid, lies the best answer - exclusion!

Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor

his month's tasks
  • Treat potted cyclamen with care, giving light, heat and water.
  • Bring in Cyclamen persicum from the garden just as the buds open.
  • Read up on ground cover in preparation.
  • Keep deer at bay.

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