Plants are opportunists. For every seemingly impossible situation there is something: perennial, tree seedling, grass, that finds that niche just the perfect place to spend its life. Many of us gardeners find dry shade particularly difficult to fill, but of course there are plants that thrive in such a spot: many of them very beautiful.
Hardy cyclamen are well suited to arid conditions. They prefer shade, and those that flower in the winter months are the most welcome in our gardens. Cyclamen coum starts into growth early in the New Year. It originates in the Caucasus and is completely hardy here. Its fat, pink little flowers sit atop rounded leaves; sometimes dark green, sometimes exquisitely silver.
The much less widely grown C. repandum is a larger plant altogether, that prefers draining, humous-rich shade, flowering in April and May. It remains dormant for much of the year, so it can seem suddenly to sparkle when the scented pink flowers pop up beneath an acer in its fresh spring-green livery. The scalloped leaves appear with the flowers. Cyclamen repandum comes from the Italian Mediterranean so in colder gardens in the UK they can be subsumed by a late frost.
Cyclamen hederifolium, the ivy-leafed cyclamen, is native to Southern Europe and Turkey, and seems to be completely at home in our gardens. It starts flowering in August, and continues throughout the autumn. The leaves are beautifully marbled and remain until early spring to accompany snowdrops, species crocus and winter aconites. It is a wise gardener who buys C. hederifolium in leaf. Each intricate leaf-pattern is unique to each plant.
The flower colours vary from deep wine-red, to pink, and red-nosed white, painting the ground beneath the trees in pools of colour.
The flowers develop hard, round seed capsules with a point on a coiled stem, the better to corkscrew down into the ground. But to thwart their intentions, armies of ants march to pillage the sweet-coated seeds and carry them back to their nests in triumph. You can almost feel the seeds winking. They have succeeded on both fronts.
In due time, from the ant-tunnels amongst the tree roots, or maybe the lawn or the garden path, the seeds germinate and produce plantlets with well-marked leaves and eventually the typical red, pink or white flowers. And if carefully chosen by the gardener these good parents will produce good offspring.