It is not just hellebores that bring a splash of colour to the garden at this time of the year. Cyclamen coum is a reliable little plant that goes against the spring fashion of white, blue and yellow and brings us dainty but tough flowers in every shade of pink from the palest pastels to deep cerise, often with deeper-coloured ‘noses’ and all set against beautiful foliage that, typically, is dark, lustrous green but often is marbled with silvery grey. Best planted as growing plants rather than dried tubers*, it is really difficult to select which to buy from a bench of plants at this time of year because you have to choose your favourites not only based on the colour of the flowers but the colouring of the leaves. Some are plain green, others pure pewter and some delightfully marked in both shades.
Cyclamen coum is a tough little plant that grows best in light shade or sun and will survive in dry shade though decent soil is best. It is native to areas around the Black Sea including Crimea and Georgia and southern Turkey south to Israel where it grows at the edge of woodland and among rocks, reinforcing its need for drainage.
In the garden it usually blooms from January till March and the leaves are attractive long after the flowers fade before they die down in summer when the presence of the plants can be determined by the cluster of round seed pods on coiled stems. Despite the delicate appearance of the flowers, this is a hardy plant and the blooms will not be damaged by frost or snow and it often looks its most impressive when the bright blooms are poking through snow. In the USA it will easily cope with USDA 6 and probably less.
* I should know better and I should follow my own advice but I planted a batch of 50 tubers last autumn and, so far, only about 10 have shown signs of life. Dried tubers often fail to grow or at least take a long time to get established and it is far better to buy plants in growth. Once they get going they usually seed around and form large colonies.