Garden log, 12.19.14

A bit of garden clean-up today gave me a soul-nourishing break from holiday hubbub. Did some raking (oh, endless leaves); planted Cyclamen rohlfsianum (4 seedlings) at the base of an oak tree just above the rain garden. I sowed these seeds last year and set them outside to suffer winter. Just as I was about to throw the pot out, leaves emerged.

The Cyclamen Society says that C. rohlfsianum must be kept frost-free, but life prevented me from getting the pot indoors this fall, and these seedlings have endured a few frosts. I intend to press my luck a little bit. I shall put at least one seedling in a pot in my cold frame, but the others are under a blanket of gravel and dried shredded leaves. Wish me luck.

Raked out the rain garden and dug and divided some Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain,’ making one plant into about a dozen and setting them near the yew, the dwarf Alberta spruce, and a couple under the gardenia hedge. Cut back all the tattered and slug-munched foliage. New leaves are already emerging.

Pulmonaria 'Trevi Fountain'

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’

Potted up an acanthus and planted out two leatherleaf viburnums, Viburnum rhytidophyllum. That’s in addition to the nine I planted a few weeks ago (I acquired a pile of seedlings from a neighbor’s woods). I’m working on an evergreen screen until I can get enough pennies saved to install a nice, high, deer-proof fence. The English ivy is out of control in the back garden, near the gardenia hedge, but that’s a project for another day.

Did myself a favor and decided not to grow bulb onions from seed this year. They take more work than I have time, and since we go through about 3 pounds of onions a week, I couldn’t hope to save myself a trip to the grocery out of my effort. More room for cut-and-come-again greens instead.

The weather should be perfectly foul tomorrow, high 30s (~3C) and rain. Fine weather to curl up with the deliciously fat catalogue from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and figure out what to plant in place of those onions.

My seed-grown cyclamen

Last year, I planted cyclamen seeds. Last month, I saw their first stirrings to life.

This month, they’re going nuts. Every time I pass by the pots, I find more leaves pushing up from the gravel.

Cyclamen seedlings

Cyclamen seedlings

Two species are doing very well: Cyclamen coum album, and Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum. I’m surprised that Cyclamen hederifolium isn’t doing as well, as that’s supposed to be the easiest to grow. I have heard that C. graecum is supposed to be quite finicky, although plants from Greece and Turkey tend to perform well here as long as the drainage is good. I can’t wait to see their foliage take on its pattern. Here are two images  from John Lonsdale of the Pacific Bulb Society:

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

I can transplant them after they have 3-4 sets of true leaves–no idea how long that will take. The Pacific Bulb Society indicates fertilization with an 18-8-18 formula, alternating with a fertilizer based on calcium nitrate. I’ll show in a future post how to mix your own fertilizer blends.

For now, I must sow the rest of the seeds and see if I can get another batch going. The prospect of having such wonderful foliage to get me through a grim winter cheers me up immensely.

What are your favorite winter plants?

Cyclamen from seed: Presoaking method

The backlog of unsown seeds in my refrigerator and elsewhere in the house makes me no different from any other gardener, I suppose, but I don’t have the seeds of the plants I want now.

A personal law of mine, which I follow from time to time, says I may not purchase more seeds until I have planted the ones I have. Now is one of those times: I deeply want primula seeds, but I haven’t finished sowing my cyclamen yet.

Continuing with my unscientific experiment of propagating cyclamen from seed:

Cyclamen propagation: Presoaking method

Cyclamen have a hard seed coat. Softening the seed coat by presoaking the seeds is said to expedite germination.

  1. Soak the seeds for 12 hours in warm water. Rinse the seeds, and sow into pots.
  2. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of sand or vermiculite, then add a layer of grit or gravel (I’m using chicken grit).
  3. Water well. 
  4. Exclude light: I’m further covering these pots with black plastic, just in case the layer of grit isn’t enough.
  5. Keep the pots cool: They should remain between 60-69° F (16-21° C).
  6. Check back periodically. Germination may take 30-60 days.

Growing cyclamen from seed: A winter experiment

Cyclamen are gorgeous, delicate plants. They bloom in winter when little else does. And bittster tells me it isn’t hard to grow them from seed. So he and I went in together on a seed order from Green Ice Nursery, and the seeds arrived not long ago (along with a little gift).

cyclamen hederifolium ready for transplant

The live plants are tucked into their spaces in the garden, and now it’s time to sow some seed.

Instructions for multiple methods to start cyclamen from seed may be found on the Internet. I’m going to try them all (though not in a terribly scientific way).

The first and easiest method is simple winter sowing, or Letting Mother Nature Take Her Course.

cyclamen seed packets from green ice nursery

Cyclamen need dark to germinate. I am beginning with dark plastic pots, filled with coir. I water the coir and pack it into the pot, using another clean pot to tamp it down:

packed coir

The seeds are quite small. These are of Cyclamen hederifolium. I don’t know if there is a variety or cultivar name, but the nursery describes them as “extreme dark purple flowers.”

cyclamen hederifolium extr dark purple seed

The packet came with 10 seeds, so I’m trying this method on five.

I potted the seeds, covered them with a thin layer of coir, and watered them in, passing them back and forth a few times under the fine spray from my kitchen faucet.

watering in cyclamen seed

Finally, I labeled the pot and covered it with a thin layer of chicken grit to reduce light and to reduce the risk of damping off. My chicken grit is crushed granite, available at farm-supply stores.

Then the pot goes outside on my deck, to suffer the elements and wait until spring.

potted winter sown cyclamen

Today we’re expecting to see the edge of a winter storm, with cold rain definite and freezing rain possible. That should get them off to a good start. We’ll check back in three to six months, which is how long it may take them to germinate.

Dear Bittster,

Dear Bittster,

You are one generous gardener. When you emailed to say you’d added a little surprise to the box, I figured on a few extra seeds. Imagine my delight when I opened the box and found real, live cyclamen plants!

surprise cyclamen plants

Three little cyclamen!

Thank you so much for sharing your carefully tended plants with me. Cyclamen are precious; my neighbor across the street, who is otherwise very generous with her own garden plants, has said on more than one occasion “You can have anything but my cyclamen.”

The leaf patterns are delightful. I popped the plants into the ground immediately, just off the deck where I can see them from the kitchen. I know I’ll enjoy them all winter long.

cyclamen hederifolium planted

Many thanks for your generosity. Can I offer you some hellebores or Convallaria majalis in return?

Best regards,

MHM

Montrose

A week or two ago I made a visit to Montrose, a garden on the National Register of Historic Places.

Montrose house front

The 61-acre property has been owned and maintained by Nancy and Craufurd Goodwin since 1977. Although lovely at all times of the year, it is supposed to be particularly attractive in the winter. Although the Goodwins don’t work strictly organically, they don’t use pesticides extensively, and they do relatively little supplemental watering, choosing to rely instead on the “right plant, right place” concept.

Nancy is particularly interested in cyclamen. She grows then from seed (a project I am hoping to undertake myself this winter with advice from bittster), and has allowed them to naturalize over the property.

dawn redwood with cyclamen

Two massive dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) grow to the left of the house. Beneath the sequoias, which are deciduous, are masses of naturalized groundcovers including aquilegias, minor bulbs, and Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen hederifolium.

It’s a clever pairing: The cyclamen like it dry during their summer dormancy, when the redwoods are in leaf and glad to soak up the soil moisture. And when the redwoods are dormant in the winter, the glorious cyclamen flowers can show their stuff.

cyclamen foliage

Cyclamen hederifolium (ivy-leaved cyclamen) in flower in October.

I have always assumed cyclamen to be difficult to grow and quite tender, but Nancy advises that is not the case. She allows the redwood leaves to fall and mulch the ground, slowly decomposing and building up the spongy soil the cyclamen like. She loves the yellow winter blanket the redwood leaves make; they set off the marbled green leaves elegantly. I shall have to go back and see.cyclamen hederifolium