Think of cyclamen and the chances are that Mothers Day immediately comes to mind, which is something of a pity. Now don’t misinterpret me, there’s nothing wrong with mothers or with having a day for them, but it does seem a little unfortunate when such beautiful, adaptable and useful plants become so commercialised that there’s difficulty escaping that association.

But no plant as beautiful as the wild cyclamen can remain so neatly packaged and presented as its cultivated forms may have it. Gardeners are always willing to experiment, to use outdoors what might be considered house plants and to seek out less widely grown but hardier species for their gardens.

Once thought to consist of many species, the genus Cyclamen is now considered to include just 19 species, some of which encompass subspecies and forms previously considered distinct. Related to the primroses, they form a few large tubers or numerous small ones, soon spreading to cover a considerable area, if happy. They occur naturally in southern Europe, neighbouring western Asia and the moister parts of North Africa with one species from Somalia, and as with many of the western Asian bulbs, corms and tubers, some species are now rare in the wild because they have been over-collected by commercial bulb gatherers and enthusiasts.

Cyclamen are generally most at home in fairly dry, partly shaded, well-drained conditions such as might be found in a rockery. Although hardiness varies with the species, if planted in well-chosen sites, all can be grown in coastal New Zealand gardens and many can be cultivated inland too. While the exact flowering time varies with the species, none bloom to any great extent in summer, the cooler months from March to October being the main season.

Common species

The best-known cyclamen is Cyclamen persicum, which is so widely cultivated as an indoor or gift plant that it usually known as the florist’s cyclamen. This species, or rather the countless cultivars or probably hybrids derived from it, is a native of the eastern Mediterranean, Libya and the islands of Rhodes and Crete. The true species, sometimes seen but often hard to differentiate from the cultivated forms, has dark green leaves heavily marbled with silver-grey and its fragrant flowers, which have reflexed petals up to 3