Name: Autumn cyclamen, Italian cyclamen, hardy cyclamen, sow-bread. While its common names are generally descriptive, sow-bread is a reference to feeding by pigs, known as pannage.
Botanical name: Cyclamen hederifolium this is the botanical name, which derives from Greek kuklos and Latin cyclamino. Well-furnished with ancient names, it is no surprise that this species and some other related ones grow across large areas of the Mediterranean basin. This species was formerly known as Cyclamen neapolitanum, which means of Naples, an appropriate name as it grows in that area. But ‘hederifolium’ is also very appropriate. The leaves of this cyclamen species are shaped like those of a mature ivy bush, hedera being the botanical name of ivy.
Family: Cyclamen is part of the primula, or primrose, family, the Primulaceae.
Autumn cyclamen has the unusual trait that it flowers at the end of summer and early autumn, just when most plants are starting to tail off for the year.
The sight of the small, jewel-like flowers opening against the trend of the season is a delight as they bring a freshness that helps the rest of the garden to look a bit less jaded. Yet, this little plant is not seen as often as it might be, despite being easy to grow. It is seen mostly in shades of pale purple, but there is a very beautiful white form too.
Those who know this plant generally are very fond of it. It can begin to flower at any stage between mid-August and mid-September, depending on how wet the weather is, and how warm. In a wet August, it will come into flower early, later in a dry, hot time, as happened this year.
The flowers are often seen growing on the sunny side of big old trees, especially under cedars. Dry soil and good sunlight are ideal, the grass being inhibited by dry soil conditions.
This cyclamen copes with summer drought by going dormant and so it has an advantage over the competing grass.
It forms a tuber just beneath the soil surface and some of these on older plants can be as broad as a tea saucer and even bigger sometimes.
A couple of weeks after flowering begins, the heart-shaped leaves emerge, beautifully patterned, often with dark-green or light-coloured, or even silvered, veining and marbling.
The foliage forms a dense dome that shades out grass. Growing all through winter in mild spells, the leaves wither away by late spring. In the meantime, the seed-pods have formed at the top of the flower stems.
Soon after flowering, the flower stems take on a spiral form that pulls the developing seedpods head down to ground level where seeds are ripened.
In the summer that follows flowering, the large seeds are shed on to the surrounding soil where some germinate. If the soil is well-drained in a sunny position, many new, small plants grow, their tubers growing larger in diameter each year. These young plants can be moved to other places.
The tubers are very durable and long-lived. The autumn cyclamen is easily grown from seed in trays in a greenhouse or even outdoors.
Most house plants that die in winter are affected by lack of watering, or too much watering, and by lack of light.
Many people have a habit of watering the same amount, which can lead to death of plants by providing too much or too little water.
Plants should be just barely moist, not too dry and not standing in water, which can cause the roots to rot.
When it comes to warmth, house plants can be graded according to need, keeping those that require most heat for the warmer rooms, but not close to sources of heat, such as radiators or fireplaces. Stop feeding with plant food as they are not able to use the extra nutrients.
Trees, shrubs and roses
The prolonged period of drought during the summer made it necessary to water repeatedly many shrubs and young trees planted in the past year. Check that supports on wall-trained climbers are solid. Prune late-flowering roses.
Fruit, vegetables and herbs
The vegetable garden needs to be tidied before winter. Fruit crops can be picked and stored, using flat shelves or trays for pears and plastic bags, open at the neck, for apples. Strawberries can be planted now.
If summer bedding is tired, it can be removed in the next couple of weeks to make way for planting spring bedding and bulbs in the open and in containers for spring display. The garden shops have the spring bedding in now.
Good growth in recent weeks has seen lawns in good condition because of nitrogen and nutrient released by decaying humus. Moss is asserting itself too. Sulphate of iron can be applied if moss was a problem last winter and spring.
Greenhouse and house plants
Throw out any old plants that are past their best or half-dead plants because they are a source of pests and diseases. Tidy up all debris and reduce watering to just keep pots from going completely dry.