Florist's cyclamen outdoors, companions?

Hi, folks,
It's been a while since I checked in here. I'm gardening in San Jose, California (USDA zone 9, Sunset zone 16).
My son likes plants! Last fall, he asked us to buy a "Laser Scarlet" cyclamen at a local home and garden store, which we potted and enjoyed on the back patio all winter and spring. Then it went dormant, and maybe it died.
This season, the store has stocked many more of these plants, and they're even pretty cheap. So we bought a few more. By now, I've done some homework, and I've concluded that "Laser Scarlet" is a cultivar of florist's cyclamen, C. persicum, a perennial native to the eastern Mediterranean. Knowing that, I thought that we might try them as a permanent garden feature, given that we live in California.
We've put them straight in the ground this time, in a partly-shaded area on a slope near our apple tree. I amended the soil with a little peat moss and sand before planting. So fertility should be good, and I'm sure that drainage is excellent. I've top-dressed the soil around the plants with some redwood bark floss, but made sure to keep the crowns uncovered. I watered them heavily once, when I first put them in, but have done little to them since.
The plants have been in the ground for a month, and they look quite happy.
I've also planted out the contents of the dormant cyclamen pot from last season. I'm not sure if there's anything still alive in there. The roots that I saw looked brown and shrivelled. I didn't want to dig into the encrusted soil to examine the corm, for fear of breaking the roots.
Has anyone tried this species outdoors? I can see that a lot of gardeners try C. coum or C. hederifolia, but everyone seems to grow C. persicum as a houseplant. The main problem with C. persicum seems to be sensitivity to frost.
I do not plan to provide any off-season water for these plants. So they'll definitely be going dormant in the summer. (I'm not even sure that I could prevent them from going dormant if I wanted to.) I do not intend to dig and store the corms, either.
To keep this patch of the garden from looking ugly eight months from now, I'd like to find a suitable companion plant that, at the least, is green in the summertime, and whose foliage would not overshadow the cyclamens while they're putting on their show. Any suggestions? I was thinking of something like Pacific coast hybrid iris. I have a surplus of narcissus and freesia bulbs, but I'm not sure that either will tolerate the shade.
Many thanks!
-- Rainforest laid low. "Wake up and smell the ozone," Says man with chainsaw. John J. Ladasky Jr., Ph.D.
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snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com (John Ladasky) wrote:


Regular wild-form C. persicum do well in zones 8-10 out in the garden, though its myriad cultivars are only guaranteed to thrive outdoors in zone 10. My wild C. persicums have splendid autumn flowering followed by leaves; the blooms are very upright, very pink, & slightly larger than the usual hardy cyclamens. As a generality, the florist cyclamens with the smallest flowers are closest in their nature to the wild form, & that includes little 'Laser Scarlet.'
So while florist cyclamens won't ordinarily survive outdoors where winter temperatures fall below 30 degrees F., 'Laser Scarlet' is an exception. I've had it do well for three years by now, in zone 8, gorgeous leafage, though the flowers have been sparse compared to C. coum & C. hederifolium & the wild C. persicum. 'Laser Scarlet' ought to do even better for you in zone 9, & a few of the more delicate varieties MIGHT be worth trying in a sheltered location for zone 9. They like shady spots close to tree trunks which never stay moist for too long at a time.

Anything you plant with them should ENTIRELY die back by September, or you will not see the cyclamen flowers. Here in zone 8 something like Purple Meadow Crane's-bill (Geranium pratense) can do the trick because its entirely spent by September when the cyclamens start flowering (but meadow crane's-bill might last too late in the year in zone 9). Also its root system is not aggressive (other crane's-bills persist until early winter or even year-round so would hide the cyclamens; or iberian or magnifica or bigroot varieties have aggressive roots that can actually lift the cyclamens out of their locations; & of course to bloom well the crane's-bills need more sun than do the cyclamens -- so it's not a perfect match but any part-shade-tolerant early-autumn-die-back variety might come close). Another option would be shade annuals that are nearly spent by September & even if they wanted to last until november can be cut to the ground al ittle prematurely just as the cyclamens are beginning to bloom.
Occasionally they mix well with something like Muscari latifolium which can tolerate conditions under deciduous trees, appearing so early in spring that the leaves are not back on the trees yet so they do get some light. Muscaris are coming into their own as the cyclamens are vanishing. Almost any muscari will do but not M. botryoides which has autumn grass tall enough to hide cyclamens. Most other muscaris don't produce leaves until spring. Crocuses might also work, especially C. tommasiannus which can bloom quite well under deciduous trees & will naturalize forever. But when the muscaris or crocuses are done by later in spring, you're still left with a blank spot in the garden. If the cyclamens are up close to a tree which is their ideal, nothing else much likes to grow in such a spot anyway, & a blank area in summer looks normal around a tree.
Tuberous irises probably wouldn't cohabit with cyclamens all that well, though reticulated dwarfs which have little bulbs instead of aggressive tubers would do as well as crocus or muscari or Scilla mischtschenkoana 'Tubergeniana.'
A very tiny evergreen fern called Alpine Water Fern (Blechnum penna-marina alpina) might make a good companion with cyclamens, as it is so extremely low-growing that even tiny cyclamens will rise above it in their season. This fern is hard to track down though, often pricy, and slow to spread. But worth tracking down.
In a more open area their companion can just be a large woody deciduous shrub since they need some protection from overhead sun anyway, & cyclamens are adapted to nestle between the woody roots of shrubs or trees.
If you start here: http://www.paghat.com/cyclamen.html you can start on a linked series of pages about hardy cyclamens of sundry species and cultivars all much hardier than florist cyclamens. The only one that keeps a summer presence is C. intaminatum, & conceivably you could use that as a companion for 'Laser Scarlet' as it would persist beyond the presence of the Laser, though it does eventually go dormant too.
-paghat the ratgirl
--
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
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Hello again,
This thread has been quiet for a while, but the comments were appreciated. Thanks, paghat, for your advice about outdoor growing conditions for cyclamens. Mine are still happy, though it looks like they're finally dropping their flowers.
Cyclamens are summer-dormant in their native environment (Eastern Mediterranean) and also in California -- unless they are watered, which I do not intend to do. Therefore, I also asked about companion plants which would provide year-round interest in this spot. Paghat's suggestions were:

These all sound like good suggestions. I haven't planted anything yet. Let me throw two other suggestions into the mix, and see whether anyone has any opinions.
The _Sunset_Western_Garden_Book_ has this to say about C.persicum: "Good choice for color in place to be occupied by tuberous begonias in summer." That's an interesting suggestion, but tuberous begonias require a fair amount of summer water, which I'm trying to avoid. Is there a risk of rotting a dormant cyclamen tuber with summer water?
I'm inclined towards Western American native plants, and have in fact landscaped the area surrounding the cyclamens with many such plants (that's why I'm aiming to use little supplemental water -- some of my plants *need* the summer dryness). So, when I read the Sunset entry for Vancouveria hexandra, it sounded promising. A maximum of 1 foot high, little summer water, dies back in winter. What do you think?
Thanks, as always!
-- Rainforest laid low. "Wake up and smell the ozone," Says man with chainsaw. John J. Ladasky Jr., Ph.D.
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snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com wrote:

Cyclamens do prefer dryish shade year-round, & could be more at risk of rot during summer dormancy. However, I have C. hederifolium (the hardiest of the hardies) scattered about one well-watered shade area & can't see that any of them have ever failed to return in autumn good as ever. Since even the tuberous begonias would require well-draining soil to thrive, presumedly the cyclamens would never actually be steeping in wetness. I've also grown them in areas that mid-spring to early autumn have large Asian jack-in-the-pulpits which are not drought-tolerant but neither do they like outright wetness, & I'd guess the tuberous begonias would likewise be in that "happy compromise" of not too wet for the cyclamens but not too dry for the pulpits or begonias. When grown as close as possible to the trunk of a large tree, even a well-watered shade-garden will be dry close around trees that suck the ground dry pretty fast, thus perfect spots for cyclamens even if that needs regular watering is nearby a few feet away from trunks.

The wild Douglas Iris or Pacific Coast Iris does well in dryish semi-shade if not TOO dry & not TOO shady. There are a lot of hybrids of the Pacific Coast Irises that are more shade tolerant than average, but some of them won't reliably bloom in shade, but the wild species will. They have to completely dry out between waterings.
Although bishop's hats attempt to be evergreen through winter, the smaller varieties usually fail, so as soon as they get ratty-looking they can be cut flush to the ground so that only the winter cyclamens are visible. The wild native equivalent is Vancouveria which you mention; it too attempts to be evergreen but eventually needs trimming back, & it can be done sooner in winter for the sake of cyclamens (though Vancouveria much more than the bishop's hats is usually airy enough to share space with cyclamens in winter without hiding them, so may not require too hasty a trim). Vancouveria is a charming plant that flaps its leaves in the slightest breeze so adds movement to a low-growing shade garden.
Temperatures aren't right for me to grow amaryllis here, but a little further south they'd be good companions for cyclamens. Corydalis lutea is the most drought-tolerant corydalis & it vanishes in winter. Other possibilities are Oregon Oxalis, the somewhat drought-hardy deciduous ferns in the Dryopteris genus (& if not too awfully dry the Japanese painted fern & the hybrid "ghost" fern are more drought-tolerant than people seem to realize). And the old reliable dry-shade standard is sweet woodruff; mine has never become aggressive because it is hemmed in on four sides by the house, walkway, & two large thick-rooted shrubs, so nowhere it can spread wantonly. The sweet woodruff shares its area very happily with Hyacinthoides non-scripta 'Alba' (see http://www.paghat.com/scilla_alba.html ) that does jolly well in dry shade but are up for spring only. Cyclamens would grow well in there too, but the big shrubs don't let me get in close to aprpeciate a plant that short, so I haven't planted them there.
Though I've never shared the widespread enthusiasm for hostas which are slug magnets, the majority do superbly in dry shade, & they vanish utterly for winter. I have a long row of cyclamens growing along the house under the eaves, but because cyclamens are so short I haven't completely filled the area with them, but only the front edge of that strip of ground. So I've been pondering putting some hostas behind the cyclamens virtually touching the house. Haven't made that decision yet since I do find hostas a bit dull & they force a gardener to attend to snails too much.
I had good luck with daffodils in that spot but only if I could be satisfied for them to bloom well for only one year spring; there's too little sun for them to recharge for the next year, so I've stopped planting them there, I prefer that they naturalize rather than always needing replanting. This past autumn, though, one long section behind the cyclamens under the eaves, I planted a number of Muscari species & will compare their effectiveness over time. I have hopes that the tasselled muscari will like the conditions & fully naturalize; I gave them the sunniest of the shade spot but it's still pretty darned shady. Hyacinthoides non-scripta would be more of a sure thing, but I've got enough of that elsewhere. I'll know in time which of the sundry muscaris will really naturalize in droughty shade; they might well just bloom really great this year then peter out as do daffodils in insufficient sun.
-paghat the ratgirl
--
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
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