Walking down the long Crape Myrtle Allée at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, you’ll see several large, Vietnamese glazed pots filled with cool-season flowers. For this to be the first week in February, they are looking rather impressive thanks to what may be the perfect Valentine’s Day plant, the Persian cyclamen. Just thinking about Valentine’s Day used to give me the shudders. Now, three cyclamen in a basket and a nice dinner at a Savannah, Georgia, restaurant, and I am home free.
You cannot beat the number of flowers it produces or its long period of bloom. Cyclamen comes in the traditional Valentine’s Day colors of red, pink and white, and the shades of purple and lavender will leave her mesmerized. If that were not enough, consider that the plant's incredibly striking leaves are heart-shaped.
Cyclamen is one example of a plant whose foliage contributes significantly to the plant’s beauty. Most cyclamen, you see, have some pattern of silver or gray variegation in those heart-shaped leaves. Another thing I like about the cyclamen is its ability to tolerate cool conditions. Cyclamen loves temperatures from 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the average outdoor temperature range during much of the late winter and spring. This means the pot near the front door where a geranium bloomed all summer can now be filled with cyclamen.
Most plant-lovers think about using them indoors, but I urge you to be bold and use them outdoors too, like we are. We have them partnered with various shades of fragrant dianthus and a touch of variegated lamium. Try them in containers, window boxes and even baskets. Don’t skimp and buy the bargain heavy potting soil, but instead use a good, lightweight soil mix. This will pay dividends because, with a little care, your cyclamen will still be blooming as spring arrives.
Keep the cyclamen evenly moist, but never soggy. When watering, I like to use a little can with a spout to place the water around the edge of the container without watering the crown or center of the plant directly. If bone-chilling temperatures are in the forecast, simply tuck your container inside for a day.
The cyclamen will certainly last longer than cut flowers. Try a mix of three differing colors in a decorative container or basket, add a fine dinner at her favorite restaurant, turn on the charm that stole her heart and you’ll be in great shape for Valentine's Day.
(Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.)