Sandy’s Garden – Let’s consider Cyclamen

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Regular readers will know that my wife and I go to the shores of Lake Garda in the north of Italy at least once every year – and preferably more often.

We first visited the small town of Garda the better part of 30 years ago for a holiday, fell in love with the town, the area, the people, the food, the wine, the climate – in short, we fell in love with everything.

Over the years we have watched Garda and its neighbouring towns Bardolino, Torri del Garda, Cisano, Lazise, Malcesine and all the others gradually increasing their appeal to holidaymakers with improved promenades, better hotels, restaurants and cafés, better street and footpath lighting, better facilities for browsing in the local shops and better ferry services on the lake. The entire area has invested a lot of time and a lot of money making itself even more attractive. It’s wonderful!

Nothing in this catalogue of improvements rates higher than the local authority floral displays. Admittedly, Lake Garda is blessed with a climate which is generally kinder to flowering plants than our own, although the first winter snow fell in Bardolino this winter before we had our first snowfall.

And the local authorities use the climate to offer visitors and, of course, local residents, lovely seasonal flower displays, digging out the spring bulbs to make way for early summer bedding, which is dug up in turn to make way for late summer bedding, which is replaced with autumn flowering plants as summer fades.

When we were last in Garda towards the end of September, Garda’s gardeners were planting out masses of Cyclamen, a plant which we usually grow as an indoor pot plant. And, by a happy circumstance, Cyclamen is nominated as the plant for February 7 in Martin Hoyles’s entertaining book entitled ‘The Gardener’s Perpetual Almanack’.

So let’s consider Cyclamen.

Cyclamen is derived from the Greek name for what is properly a ‘cormous herb’, a herb being defined in Chambers Dictionary as ‘a plant with no woody stem above ground, distinguished from a tree or shrub’; and cormous means simply, ‘producing corms’ which are plant storage systems very similar to bulbs (some authorities say that the Greeks called the plant chelonion, their word for a tortoise, because the corms resemble small turtles).

The most easily-grown variety of Cyclamen is Cyclamen hederifolium, ‘hederifolium’ meaning ‘like ivy’ because the marbled leaves resemble those of the ivy plant. Being the most easily-grown makes this the most common version of Cyclamen, both in the floral displays beside Lake Garda and in indoor pots right here in central Scotland.

The large flowers are seen atop fairly long stems before the leaves appear and the plant usually comes into flower in September, blooming for the next two months or so, although nursery-produced Cyclamen in pots can be brought into bloom during almost any autumn or winter month.

Cyclamen is grown nowadays as a decorative plant either in the rock garden, more compact, hardy versions of the genus may be tempted to thrive outdoors in Scotland, but this was not always the case. The corms of wild Cyclamen were, apparently, rooted up and eaten by pigs in England, giving rise to the once-common name ‘Sowbread’.

More significantly for the human population, Cyclamen was once renowned for its ability to cause persons to fall deeply in love. The art, ladies – or gentlemen – for that matter, is to bake the corms into little flat cakes and then to persuade your sought-after partner that these rare delicacies have to be tasted to be believed; the result will, supposedly, be love at first bite.

And, before you ask, I am sorry that I don’t have a recipe for these magical cakes, nor do I know where you, gentle reader, may find one!