Barrie Bain: Bright red cyclamen can add nice shot of color to winter garden

January 20, 2013 

This time was no exception, because, although there weren't very many plants, the ones they had were beautifully displayed and so fresh looking. I saw some lush pots of pink and white snapdragons; some colorful dianthus in hot pink, red and white; great-looking, big-faced pansies in yellow, white, blue and purple; and some tiny violas in yellow, blue and bi-color.

But the thing that I had to bring home was a six pack of bright red cyclamens. I read the label that functioned as a handle for the tray of blossoms, and it clearly stated that these "Laser Synchro" cyclamen could only be counted on to be hardy to 40 degrees, and it also recommended that the plants be placed in a spot that gets morning sun only. But, not to be deterred, I have planted them in my full sun garden and have to hope it won't get too cold for them.

What a bright spot the cyclamens make in my garden in the middle of winter when not much else is blooming. Not only do the splashy blossoms with their soft, reflexed petals stand out, but also the mottled dark green and silver-gray foliage calls for attention. These plants were available in either white or red, but I couldn't resist the red ones. It will be interesting to see if these beauties can withstand the cold or whether they really need to be houseplants.

Bouquets in waiting

If you just can't wait for spring, try clipping a few branches of spring-blooming shrubs such as forsythia, pussy willow, quince, cornelian cherry or flowering crabapple or cherry and forcing them into bloom inside. Once you see the first signs of buds on these bloomers, snip some branches, use a sharp knife to strip away about two inches from the bottom of each stem, and arrange them in a tall vase or pitcher of water. You will need to change the water every few days and keep the branches in a cool, shady spot for several weeks until the buds begin to open, then move them to a warmer, brighter room.

Forsythia, pussy willow and cornelian cherry will begin to bloom in a few weeks, but the others will take a bit longer. It can be a real joy to watch the buds swell on these winter branches and have bright blossoms adding springtime cheer to your décor long before they would be blooming outside.

Greenery for arrangements

I work on a team of the Flower Guild at my church, Trinity Episcopal, and one Friday a month our team has the responsibility of making two large arrangements for the altar, two smaller ones for the main chapel, and a medium-sized one for the other chapel. When we arrive to do our work, there are always buckets of florist flowers -- roses, snapdragons, lilies, daisies, etc. waiting for us -- but we have to bring our own greenery.

For these arrangements we first need some really tall limbs to provide the backdrop. I love to use the arching branches of leucothoe, which has thin, yellow-green leaves that march up and down its stiff stems; and eleagnus, which has more rounded, bluish-green leaves that appear on multi-branched limbs. We also need some medium-height foliage, and my favorites are anise, with tightly-packed yellowish leaves; yew, which has really dark, thin leaves; and pittosporum with either variegated green and cream foliage or the deep all-green variety.

Other greenery that we use occasionally, whenever we can get it, consists of boxwood, magnolia, ornamental grasses, abelia, ligustrum and holly.

It works best to have a nice variety of colors and textures in the greenery and we always try to have several types on hand. I have learned that the foliage holds up better when it has been picked the day before use and soaked overnight in a large bucket. Each member of the Flower Guild has her own secret sources for greenery, and I can promise you they will remain secret.

-- Barrie Bain is an independent correspondent.

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