This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
There is nothing better adapted for conservatory decoration, from the present time till late in spring, than the Cyclamen. Some years ago it was a badly-used plant, placed in out-of-the-way places, where, if it bloomed, it was all very well - if not, it was a matter of indifference to some gardeners. Fortunately, of late years it has begun to claim the attention it so well deserves. A word or two in regard to the successful cultivation of that class of plants may not be out of place to some readers of 'The Gardener.' This is a good time to sow the first batch of seed, and whichever strain the grower fancies, any respectable nurseryman can get it for him. The seed must be sown regularly over a well-crocked pot or seed-pan, covering it over with some nice free and rather rich soil. Water, and place on a shelf in the stove or the warmest end of a greenhouse; if they can be covered with a piece of glass until they germinate so much the better. In about five weeks they will be making their appearance; as soon as the second leaf is up they will be fit for handling. Pick out the strongest of them, having small 60's in readiness, well drained, and a compost made up of good loam, old dung from a Mushroom-bed, and sand, in equal parts. Let the little tubers be fairly covered in potting.
All that is required now is to keep them growing. We consider them worthy of a frame themselves, therefore make up one entirely of leaves, having plenty at command. They must be attended to carefully with water, kept as near the glass as possible, and syringed with a fine rose, when it can be done with safety. About the beginning of July they will require another shift to 48's, using the same kind of soil, only it will not require to be so fine; pot pretty firm; and now is the time the grower is interested in them. If kept near the glass the foliage is stout, and beautifully marked. The earliest of them will be in bloom in less than twelve months from the day they were sown. By sowing twice - say October and December - you will have bloom all winter and spring. They should never be allowed to dry down as they were years ago.
When they stop growing, give them water to keep them from flagging only, until they begin growing again. They must then be examined, the most of the old soil taken off them, and most likely a size larger pot, - and so on from year to year. We find them unsurpassed for drawing-room decoration. They are always attractive, whether in flower or not, and seem to be special favourites with our ladies.
The Cyclamen is fast rising to the front ranks as a decorative plant. This is not to be wondered at; for where cut flowers are in demand, where rooms have to be decorated with flowering plants, and conservatories kept gay through the winter and spring months, there is no plant that will adapt itself better to the purpose than the Cyclamen. Cut flowers of it last a long time, and plants of it in a light position in rooms continue to throw up their flowers, and keep in good condition a considerable length of time. If the cultivator is in possession of a good strain of plants, the best system is to save seed from them, which will be ripe about July or August, when it should at once be sown. Some growers prefer sowing the seed in February and March; and if the seed is not home-saved, and has to be purchased, it frequently, when old, is a long time before it germinates; and if not sown till February, half the season is gone before the seedlings are up. If home-saved seed be sown when ripe, it germinates quickly, and allows a long season of growth.
The seed should be sown in pans in a light rich compost, not covering too deeply. When well watered, the pan should be covered with a sheet of glass, and moss laid over the glass. It soon germinates if placed in a temperature of 60°. As soon as the plants appear they should be gradually exposed to the light near the glass; and if kept in the temperature named, they soon form small bulbs, leaf after leaf springs up, and in a very short time the seedlings are ready to be pricked off into other pans, which are preferable to small pots, pans not being so liable to get dry.
The Cyclamen should never be allowed to suffer for want of water during the season of active growth. When the young plants are large enough, they should be taken out of the pans and put into 3-inch pots, in a compost of rich fibry-loam, a little cow-manure, and sufficient sand to make the whole porous. When the plants have taken well to the new soil, they will grow rapidly; and every care must be exercised that they receive no check. When the pots are full of roots, the plants should be repotted into 4-inch pots, using the same compost. The plants should be gradually hardened off from the temperature they have been growing in, and placed in cold frames; and on all favourable occasions they should have abundance of air while making their growth, the frames being closed, and the plants dewed overhead with the syringe on fine afternoons. They should continue to grow apace, until they are ready for their final shift into 5 or 6 inch pots - although the size of pot should be determined by the cultivator, according to the different purposes the plants are required for. By the end of September or October they should be removed from the cold frames to a house where a little warmth is maintained and abundance of air can play amongst them. They should be placed as near to the glass as possible.
They will soon commence to throw up their flowers, especially if placed into a little more warmth. By so doing, the plants can be brought into flower in batches as required.
Single bulbs treated as described will produce 100 to 150 blooms. These will not all be open at one time, but will be produced in succession for three months or more, provided they are not kept in too much heat. It is well to raise a set of young plants annually.
After blooming, the plants are carefully attended to, and are occasionally watered with manure-water, to assist them to develop and mature their bulbs thoroughly before they go to rest. Planting the bulbs out in the early part of June is a good system, mulching with cocoa-nut fibre or old tan, to prevent the ground from drying too frequently. Another good plan is to plunge the plants out in their pots in any material that will hold moisture. In either case the plants should be repotted in the early part of September, and kept close in a frame for a time, and there treated as described for the seedlings. The bulbs must be cared for after the flowering season, if success is again looked for. A Grower.