Curiosity in Eden and a Cyclamen Surprise



Curiosity is not necessarily a good thing. Take Adam and Eve, for example.
Despite God’s warning, their curiosity about what would really happen to them if they took a bite from fruit growing on the Tree of Knowledge proved costly. Instead of spending an eternity in the Garden of Eden, their stay there was cut short. In fact, they were expelled from Eden on the same day that God created them.
It is said that plant lovers derive their greatest pleasure from discovering new plants, yet annual encounters with perennials that bloom seasonally can be just as satisfying. Even with years of familiarity, it is always a pleasant surprise to see cyclamen blooming in the local nursery.
Cyclamen illustrate “You get what you pay for,” a principle that often works when it comes to plants. Although cyclamen in 4-inch pots typically cost several dollars apiece, they are worth the investment.
Cyclamen that are planted now should last until April at least, a solid six months in the garden. Their tubers — resembling miniature cow pies — may be lifted and stored in a cool garage or garden shed when blooming stops and leaves wither as temperatures warm.
Plant them out in the garden six months after extraction from the earth and they will put out their telltale heart-shaped foliage, usually decorated with symmetrical white designs, and flower once again.
Cyclamen’s bright red, pink or lavender flowers are the perfect antidote to the slate gray skies of winter and their cold tolerance is noteworthy. Although top growth may be killed in a severe frost, their tubers insure that they will survive and bloom another day.
Cyclamen’s one absolute requirement is excellent soil drainage. If drainage is even slightly impaired, tubers may rot. One other point: Don’t fertilize cyclamen much, if at all, or you will get lots of leafy growth at the expense of flower bud development.
I did discover what were, for me, a number of new plants recently and want to share these discoveries with you.
One of them is oxblood or schoolhouse lily (Rhodophiala bifida), a native of Argentina. It’s called schoolhouse lily because it starts blooming in September when kids are going back to school. Its brilliant vermilion red is without equal among any of the lilies I have seen till now.
It has been said that what daffodils are to New England, schoolhouse lilies are to the Sun Belt. Just like daffodils come up flawlessly and without much effort after snowy winters, schoolhouse lilies regularly bloom on the heels of sizzling hot summers.
Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba) is a sturdy vine that shows off silvery flower puffs in the fall.
Although invasive in its European habitat, it is kept in check when grown in dry Mediterranean climates such as our own.
Boneseed (Chrysanthemoides monilifera) is a tough ground cover from South Africa. Given a bare minimum of water, boneseed produces lots and lots of yellow daisies, complemented by irregularly dentate leaves which, when young, are covered with gray hairs that provide insulation from summer heat.
Bidens, from the aster family, can be planted in a sunny garden bed or patio container. It grows as a small, decorous mound with brilliant and fragrant yellow flowers.
Classic baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata), the bouquet filler with tiny white flowers, is a perennial that is nearly impossible to grow unless you garden near the coast. Creeping baby’s breath (Gypsophila repens ‘Rosea’) is a different story. It is a resilient ground cover and container specimen that does not require any special treatment or microclimate, other than a sunny or partially sunny exposure, to prosper.
Every time I see woolly bush (Adenanthos sericeus), I want to touch it and you will, too. This Australian native is being planted in more gardens every day, and with good reason.
Despite the tactile softness of its bottlebrush shoots, woolly bush is as tough as nails in the garden, requiring a scant amount of water to grow wherever a generous allotment of sun is available.

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