You need cyclamen in your garden, especially if you have semi-shaded spots that need brightening up in spring or autumn. My favourites are probably the autumn ones as they are often in flower at the beginning of November when everything else has given up. They become a surprising and welcome beacon of colour.
There are two common species that are easy plants and suitable for growing outside in the UK. One flowers in spring (Cyclamen coum), and the other in autumn (Cyclamen hederifolium.) There are others but let’s keep it to a couple for now.
Both have a spectrum of flower colour from pure white through pinks to a dark magenta colour.
They grow from tubers, which are generally fairly shallow beneath the soil. Their leaves are just as varied as their flowers and are attractive in their own right.
They like a well drained humous rich soil and will survive under shrubs with enough light.
Their other merit is an ability to self-seed in the right environments. If you have good healthy plants the chances are you will have seedlings before long.
You can often buy them in bulk quantities advertised like “10 mixed Cyclamen” in 9cm pots. I’ve tried buying and planting the tubers before (they are like a sphere squashed a good bit to be disk-like), but to be completely honest I found it tricky to tell what was the top, and what was the bottom, and if they are over-dry then they sometimes fail too. So losses were higher than planned. I’ve had full success with the small potted ones (though the bloody rabbits sometimes dig them up, you can re-plant.)
They don’t thrive in sites that get hot afternoon sun. A light shade is favoured. Plant them with the tubers about 2-3cm deep, or just as they come if you get growing ones in pots.
If you dot them around, in humous litter between the buttress roots of a big tree, or at the foot of a woodland boulder, or just at the edge of a path, then they surprise you with their appearance each spring or autumn. Little garden gems.
Oh, and hederifolium means “ivy-leafed”, guess why.
Growing your own garlic is incredibly easy and only a few minutes work. Buying two bulbs from a supplier (I mail order but many decent garden centres will carry them) for about £5 now will give you 25-30 bulbs next summer. Depending on how much garlic you use, that should see you through till the following spring. I would suggest these are great for kids learning about planting food, but many kids don’t like garlic, so possibly not.
The best time to plant, for me in Glenlyon, is October/November. You need to plant in some well drained ordinary soil. These bulbs will hate sitting in waterlogged soil. I have raised beds and use these.
You get two sorts of garlic: Hardneck, which has a stiff green leaves, and I tend to grow; softneck, where the green leaves are softer and floppy at the top of the bulb. It may take a couple of seasons to find a variety you prefer, for flavour, and suits your growing situation best.
Buy 2 bulbs (or more if you want) from a supplier. They need to be suitable for autumn planting, as some don’t do well over winter. You’re best not to buy from a supermarket for a few reasons: the variety might not be growable the UK climate; you can’t tell which variety you are getting; not all varieties can be planted in autumn to overwinter; they may have diseases.
Plant in October if you can, but it can be fine up till December if the soil is warm enough. The roots start to form and the green tips will poke up to just above the surface of the soil before winter arrives properly. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine under the snow.
Separate the bulbs into the individual corms. Tiny sliver corms probably won’t grow big bulbs, the bigger the corm the better the resulting bulb.
Prepare a small plot or section of a raised bed by forking over the soil and raking lightly. You could even grow these in an appropriately sized pot.
Gently push the corms into the soil till they are about their own length under the soil. I often poke a small hole with my finger then put the corm in. Close up by using your hand to cover the bulb.
Plant the corms in rows, about 6 inches between the rows and the corms. Don’t forget to stick a label in as they are below the soil and if you are anything like me you will forget where you put them and disturb them with other planting.
Water the bulbs in spring and summer if it gets really dry. You can produce good sized bulbs from good sized corms that are well fed. I use liquid seaweed like the one in the link below, there are lots of options.
You will get two harvests from hardneck garlic. The first is very seasonal and you have to spot the garlic coming in to flower. As it begins to throw up a flower spike, and while the flower is just a swelling on a rising green spike, cut the spike off. The flower spike is a garlic scape. It’s delicious cut into 2-3cm lengths, sautéed in oil and tossed through some fresh pasta with perhaps some flat leaf parsley. The scapes need to be cooked, blanched or fried, to have a gentle garlic flavour, otherwise they might be too harsh. The flowers could happen any time from April to June depending on weather. You need to cut them off anyway to stop the bulb wasting energy producing a flower.
Harvest the bulbs in about July time, when they will probably begin to have brown or fading foliage. Gently fork them up and shake off the soil from the roots. Try and pick a dry spell to harvest, but don’t worry if it rains. I lay the bulbs with their attached foliage. on their sides for a few days to allow the outer part of the bulb to dry slightly. After they have dried I use secateurs to trim the roots, taking care not to damage the bulb, and I cut off the foliage about 8cm above the bulb. I then sit them upright in a dry wooden box in the light and dry in my shed. It gives a wonderful garlic aroma to the shed for weeks.
Another real treat treat use one of the fresh “wet” garlic bulbs to make yourself some pesto and have with fresh spaghetti, perhaps with some wilted rocket stirred through it. A delicious taste of summer.
Bring a bulb of garlic into the house when you need one, and you can do this through the rest of the year and perhaps till next spring depending on how much you use.