Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Last Day of Autumn


It's a sunny Melbourne day, cold, crisp, with (I think) our first frost on the lawn - the outdoor thermometer says it dropped to 2.7°C last night. (I don't check the rain gauge - my soil is always too wet or too dry; but the level of heat and cold - for some bizarre reason - fascinate me.)

I enjoy these milestones - the equinoxes, May Day and so on, to contemplate and really look around the garden. Often it's merely to enjoy the sheer numbers of flowers raising a brave standard above the ramparts.
What's extraordinary this year is to still have Cyclamen purpurescens (top) in bloom, a species that flowers in summer, not just enjoying its swansong while C. hederifolium (above) does its autumn thing, but also now with a solitary Cyclamen coum (below) beginning its chorus. These three haven't met before - in my garden.
Or is it surprising? It's been a balmy autumn until this past cold week. Sydneysiders have been treated to weather nearly 5°C warmer than usual (I read in The Age, 28th May); Melbournites 3°. As I've written elsewhere, when we popped in on our Hobart friends a couple of weeks ago they told us they'd been sunning themselves in weather 8° warmer than usual. [No wonder the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching so terribly (a third); add warmth to acidification, pesticide and particulate matter run-off, dredging (our government can change the last 3 immediately if they are serious)...but I digress.]
Cyclamen - species cyclamen - are one of those plants that can call you like a siren, and before you know it you have joined the Cyclamen Society and collected 10 or more species (there are 23), all beauties with their petite flowers and marbled leaves. Mum grew a long sweep of C. hederifolium - the easiest one here in SE Australia - and I probably started with that one, too.
In the late 1980's I devoured Suzanne Price's `The Urban Woodland' which described how you could have cyclamen flowering year-round with C. hederifolium in autumn, C. coum in winter, C. repandum and C. libanoticum in spring and Cyclamen purpurescens in summer. At once I set out to acquire all these, many grown from seed, and the latter became my favourite when I realised it was the sole evergreen species (because it hails from central Europe with its year-round rainfall).
Possum Creek Perennials was my mail-order rare bulb and perennial nursery  through the 1990's; I sold 14 species or hybrids of cyclamen. Then about 10 years ago I was asked to write an Australian section of a new cyclamen monograph which was published about 3 years ago. (Looking up old plant catalogues at the State Library was a treat; I discovered that cyclamen have been grown in this country since 1845 (above).)
Then this autumn I was asked to go on ABC TV Gardening Australia to talk about cyclamen; I've never been on TV before! It was an interesting experience and they were all very nice to the novice. It aired 21st May (below).
So as winter starts I'll be watching my Cyclamen purpurescens with fascination. How long will it keep flowering?
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)

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