The South's blooming season isn't over.

Steve Bender

Along with poinsettia and Christmas cactus, florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) forms the Grand Triumvirate of holiday flowers. You may not know its name, but you can't help but encounter scads of it in greenhouses now. Large, gaudy blossoms of red, pink, or white hover like butterflies above handsome, marbled foliage. While they can be grown outdoors in mild areas, it's not easy elsewhere, so most people keep them as houseplants until they ultimately kill them by overwatering.

Thus, to add autumn and winter color to my shady woodland garden, I decided to try a different species, one that's hardy and lives in the ground year-round here – Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Leaf Pink.' I spotted it growing in pots last May at a local garden center. Lacking any experience with it, I opted to risk just one. Its ivy-shaped leaves splashed with silver were purchase-worthy by themselves. I planted the cyclamen next to my bench by a path and expected great things.

Within a week, though, I noticed apparent trouble. The leaves were beginning to yellow. Thinking it was dry, I watered it, but the next day, it was even yellower. Maybe I overwatered it. So I quit watering for a week. No dice. It got yellower and yellower, until all the leaves died. Oh, well – another loser plant bites the dust.

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But no! After a punishing summer of unrelenting hear and drought, it finally rained in October. The next day I spied a single pink flower on a slender stem pushing up through the leaves. More and more flowers soon followed. My cyclamen had not died. It had gone dormant for the summer and was now waking up!

It blossoms may be only half the size of florist's cyclamen's, but that's their charm. They look natural, not the product of radioactive fall-out. They also produce seedlings around them (if you leave the spent flowers) that will bloom in a couple of years.

Because I bought the cyclamen already growing in a pot, I planted it so that the top of the root ball was even with the soil surface. If you buy tubers, plant them two inches deep and six inches apart in fertile soil that contains a good bit of organic matter. Also plant in light shade. One thing I appreciate is they need no water in summer when it's usually dry anyway. By the time they break dormancy in fall, we've entered our rainy season that lasts through spring. Good drainage is essential. The tubers will rot in wet, heavy soil. Grow them in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

Two other hardy species you might want to try are Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen purpurascens. They feature crimson, pink, and white flowers. If you can't find cyclamens locally, look online at Brent & Becky's Bulbs and Digging Dog Nursery.

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