By Vita Sackville-West
A pot of cyclamen is a favorite Christmas present, and very nice, too, but by this time (March) some recipients may be wondering what to do with it. Don't throw it away. It will repeat its beauty for you year after year if you treat it right.
Treating it right means (1) keeping it moist so long as it continues to flower and to carry leaves; (2) letting it dry off by degrees after the last buds have opened and faded away (3) keeping it, still in its pot, unwatered, in a frost-proof place during the remaining cold weeks, and then standing it out of doors, still unwatered, still in its pot, throughout the spring and early summer in a shady place; (4) starting it into life again in July or August. Starting it into life again merely means giving it water again - very simple. It will then begin, quite quickly, to show new buds all over the corm; but to get the best out of it you ought then to re-pot it. It likes a rather loose soil, made up of fibrous loam, some gritty sand, and a handful of bonemeal, all mixed well together. Do not bury the corm; it should sit on top, three quarters visible. Do not water too much at first, water more generously when autumn comes and you bring your pots into the shelter of a warm greenhouse if you have one; or on to a warm window-sill if you have not.
Do not ever, at any time, give too much water. If you do, your plant will very quickly notify you by turning its leaves yellow and by developing a soft rot in the stems off the flowers. There seem to be two schools of thought about the best way to water. Some growers say it is better to avoid overhead watering which may course the corm to rot, and that it is better to stand the pot in a saucer or bowl with an inch or so of water, thus absorbing the moisture through the porous pot up into the roots, remembering to empty the water away when you think the plant has had enough. Other growers condemn the saucer idea.
A cottage friend of mine who grew some superb cyclamen on her kitchen window-sill tells me that her grandmother advised her to water them with weak tea. This may sound like an old wife's tale, but the tales of some old wives sometimes turn out to be right.
There are two kinds of cyclamen: the Persian, which is the one your friends give you, and which is not hardy, and the small, out door one, a tiny edition of the big Persian, as hardy as a snowdrop. These little cyclamen are among the longest lived of garden plants. A cyclamen corm will keep it self going for more years than its owner is likely to live. They have other advantages: (1) they will grow under trees, for they tolerate, and indeed enjoy, shade; (2) they do not object to a limy soil; (3) they will seed themselves and (4) they take you round the calendar by a judicious planting of different sorts. C.neapolitanum, for instance, will precede its ivy- like leaves by its little pink flower in late autumn, white flowers if you get the variety album; C.coum, pink, white, or lilac, will flower from December to March;C.balearicum will then carry on, followed by C.repandum, which takes you into the summer; and, finally, C, europeoeum for the late summer and early autumn. Some botanists believe this to be a native; it was certainly recorded here in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when, if it beaten into little flat cakes, it was considered 'a good amorous medicine to make one in love.'
Anyone who grows the little cyclamen will have observed that they employ and unusual method of twiddling a kind of corkscrew, or coil, to project the seeds from the capsule when ready. One would imagine that the coil would go off with a ping, rather like the main-spring of a clock when one overwinds it, thus flinging the seeds far and wide, and this indeed was the theory put forward by many botanists. It would appear, however, that nothing of the kind happens, and that the seeds are gently deposited on the parent corm. Why, then, this elaborate apparatus of the coil, if it serves only to drop the seed onto a hard corm and not onto the soft receptive soil? It has been suggested, notably by Mr. A. T. Johnson, that this concentration of the seeds may be Nature's idea of providing a convenient little heap for some distributing agent to carry away, and he points out that ants may be seen, in late summer, hurrying off with the seeds until not one if left. I confess that I have never sat up with a cyclamen long enough to watch this curious phenomenon of the exploding capsule; and I still wonder how and why seedings so obligingly appear in odd corners of the garden - never, I must add, very far away from the parent patch.
You may find some of them a little difficult to obtain now, but C. europoeum, coum, and neapolitanum are still listed by nurserymen, and are the three varieties I would recommend for a start. So accommodating are they that you can plant them at almost any time, though ideally they should be planted when dormant, i.e. in June or July.