Amongst really early garden flowers, Cyclamen coum are amongst the most rewarding. They do however require patience. Buy snowdrops and within a couple of years they'll look established and thoroughly at home. Cyclamen do take a while longer. Not so much to establish but to spread. Ants pick up the seed (which even has a special sugary coating to make sure this happens) and spread them around, often burying them in their nests or elsewhere for safe keeping. Over time, there will be more and more seedlings, eventually creating those spectacular drifts sometimes seen in older gardens.
The great thing about Cyclamen coum is the level of variation, both in flowers and foliage. Other plants that seed or otherwise spread themselves around the garden at this time are more predictable – primroses are all pale yellow and snowdrops are all white. Cyclamen coum can be anything from dark magenta (which looks wonderful next to the pale greeny-yellow of primroses) through every shade of pink to pure white. The foliage can vary a lot too, with many specimens showing a splash of silver on the very rounded heart-shaped leaves. Indeed very silvery varieties are generally sold as such. It's always a good plan to buy as much variation as you can when planting, to ensure that future seeding has plenty of genes to play with. Plant in the shade of deciduous trees, ensure that there is not too much competition from other plants, combine with primroses and snowdrops and be patient. The results can be very rewarding and a true tonic in the grey days of February.
Dr Noel Kingsbury