Rick Gush
December 10, 2010
City cyclamen garden bed

Photo by Rick Gush

You can find garden beds of red cyclamen all over Rapallo.

It’s officially cyclamen season here, and there are thousands of the things planted around Rapallo these days. Lots of people that live in apartments put cyclamen on their terraces and the local municipalities are big cyclamen users. Rapallo is a bit like Disneyland in that there are flower beds all over the place.

The city has a nice big nursery and greenhouse complex where they grow potted rhododendrons and azaleas and other flowering plants. They change the city flower beds perhaps three or four times a year and generally do a really good job of keeping the beds tidy. That’s a bit surprising because, in general, Italians aren’t big on maintenance and upkeep. There’s a saying that “Italy is falling apart beautifully” — and they’re not just talking about the ancient ruins.

So who knows how to explain this Italian mania for municipal flower beds? In the past two weeks, the city gardeners have planted thousands of red cyclamens around town. The gardeners will clean off the old blooms every once in a while, and the plants will bloom all winter long, no matter how cold it gets. The cyclamen will last until spring, when they’ll be uprooted to make way for the spring plantings. 

Although Rapallo has gone big into red cyclamen this year, some of the other cities use the white, pink and purple cyclamen, as well. All of these cyclamen varieties are grown specifically for greenhouses; the plants will come back reasonably well in the following years if stored in the shade during the summer.

Most people don’t bother digging up and moving the bulbs. They just throw the old plants away when the weather gets warm. I’ve always thought that was wasteful, but the plants I’ve rescued from the garbage haven’t ever grown nearly as well in the second year, so I’ve stopped. (Well, mostly. I do have one pair of plants that the neighbors were dumping last year, and each has five or six flowers.)

I only have one regular cyclamen in the garden, but I do have a bunch of the small, wild, lilac-colored cyclamen. We collected the bulbs on our vacations in Corsica and Elba, and they are now happily growing in a half-shady part the garden. I’m not usually too keen on digging up wild plants, but where we collected there were so many thousands of the bulbs that I don’t think we had a negative impact on the colony.

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