I’ve just been out skimming the pond, collecting the floating detritus from a week of windy weather. Akira and Takeshi have a look on their fishy faces that I last saw on my grandmother, when they cancelled the televised wrestling in favour of coverage of a darts match. Bulbs are sprouting but there is little in bloom, apart from the modest green beads of ivies and Fatsia japonica. This is the time when you regret not investing in something to brighten this winter, last year. I bought Cyclamen, because their leaves are interesting and the flowers have a windblown appeal reminiscent of Pooh’s friend Piglet, with his ears streaming out behind him in the breeze. Since they are all of short stature, they crouch down out of the reach of most gales. In English, the common name is the same as the Latin, by way of the ancient Greek for a circle, for the shape of the tuber. Pigs are supposed to like to eat them, hence the old name of sowbread but porkers had better not try it in my garden, if they wish to stave off sausagehood.
Most cyclamen species originate from the Mediterranean and are dormant in summer, their leaves sprouting in the autumn, staying colourful through the winter, and withering next spring. C. purpurascens and C. colchicum originate from cooler regions and their leaves remain through the summer and shrivel only after the next year’s foliage has developed. Flowering time may be any month of the year, depending on the species. C. hederifolium and C.purpurascens bloom in summer and autumn, C. coum blooms in winter and C. repandum in spring. The florist’s Cyclamen persicum is not hardy and should be grown indoors unless you are entirely frost free. In which case, let me know your address and I will send you a personal note full of envy, spite, greed, bile and resentment.
Fatsia japonica (castor oil plant)
Grow the plants in part shade in any moderately fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil, avoiding excessive summer moisture. Mine thrive in sand, only lightly leavened with compost. They suit naturalisation amongst the roots of deciduous trees, where falling leaves do the job of mulching without a need for you to seize a rake and get sweaty or grubby. Plant tubers 3-5cm (1¼-2in) deep and several to a large hole, in groups of odd numbers. Don’t plant them too deeply or they may not flower. Remember where you put them, to avoid scalping them when you are wielding a hoe as if you were an Olympic competitor. To help them to establish quickly, plant when the roots are visible. This will also help to distinguish between the top and bottom of the tuber, although in my view, anything without natural clear planting instructions deserves what it gets.
Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’
When the petals fade, the stems coil up and gently place the seeds upon the soil. I love the idea that here at last is a specimen that isn’t going to wait for me to mollycoddle. It’s much too cold out there for anything other than a little light gardening and then only as a spectator sport.