Monday, 6 May 2013


 Why is it that some flowers appeal, and others do not? The Empress Joséphine is still famous for collecting every then-known rose at the Château de Mamaison, near Paris; local celebrity Otto Fauser grows wondrous little crocus from seed and my friend Peter Leigh has taken winter roses (Helleborus) from England, Japan and other horticultural hot spots and transformed the dullards into duchesses better than any in the world. (His latest catalogue includes the elusive double black (a black prince?): neat, handsome...stand aside!)

Many plants are lovely but my mother – a botanist and, of course, gardener - and my sister Caroline (keen gardener too) probably loved Cyclamen the most. I wonder if my parents property was chosen alone for its potential to have that sweep of little ivy-leaf autumn-flowering cyclamen (C. hederifolium, now popping up in the lawn where ants have spread the seeds); at each leaf fall a delicious sight: lilac-pink petals swept up on 10cm stalks hovering over wonderfully-marbled leaves amongst the dry leaves of the deciduous trees along the drive. (This is no idle surmise; when we looked for land  - for 2 years - at each place I established the probable site for my circle of lawn. My mother was older and had stronger ideas.)

Neither will see the new cyclamen book, alas. Brian Mathew’s (editor) monograph is comprehensive (and big, bold and beautiful); I contributed with a small section about cyclamen grown in Australia. I visited the stunning State Library in Melbourne many times and spoke to some of the most interesting people in the country. The book germinated, I believe, about 7 years ago, and – very bulb-like – flowered after 7 years growth (altho’ the cyclamen is a tuber, like a potato, but let’s not get too pedantic). I saw and photographed catalogues and papers dating back to 1845 and fell in love with these exquisite drawings which seriously rival their subjects.

It’s nearly Mother’s Day and as large cyclamen – giant forms bred of C. persicum - flood into the nurseries I enjoy contemplating their forbears like this one (from a Law and Somner catalogue, circa 1893, top), surely much, much smaller, called Cyclamen persicum giganteum then; now they’d be barely a head turner...depending on that very personal attribute, whether you are a lover of blooms great or small.
Now I like petite flowers.
I like little camellia blooms, and shudder over the largest; same with gladioli, clematis, and so many other plants over-bred – as I see it - in the `50’s. I don’t like cottage gardens much, but at least they brought back near-species gladioli – so sweet – and some smaller dahlias that don’t need staking (what a pointless exercise that was). (Also prickly species roses which don’t flower for long...but rosarians are crazy, we all know that.)
And lately some of the bulb growers seem to be selling species cyclamen which are so hardy here in south-east Oz. Maybe it’s just that I’m a tired working woman – but I love a plant that is:
1.       Pretty
2.       Hardy
3.       Can be tossed anyhow in the ground
4.       Requires no cosseting
5.       Self sows gently
6.       Never needs care
7.       Grow in dry shade under trees
8.       And there are just more flowers – pretty little ones – every year.

Cyclamen hederifolium in particular is hardy, and the easiest cyclamen in south-east Australia. Its flowers are slowing as we head towards winter - the mercury plummeting to 2 degrees last night – but in its place I expect, very soon, the chubby C. coum (above, a nice form with silvery `Christmas tree' markings, I am showing to honour my sister born on this special day) to start its seemingly miraculous winter blooms.

In memory of my sister Caroline Clavarino (neé Weatherhead)
25th December 1950 – 4th May 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment