The Birmingham Botanical Gardens always looked with interest to the possibility to establish National Plant Collections. In 2005, when Nigel Hopes joined the Botanical Gardens, he brought with him an interest in Cyclamen which had begun in his early teens. Nigel became Alpine Supervisor and under his influence, and with the support of Vic Aspland, Trustee for Horticulture, the number of Cyclamen began to increase significantly.
The Horticultural Advisory Committee at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens resolved to form a National Collection at a meeting held on 17 September 2013. An application was made to the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (today Plant Heritage) in February 2016. Shortly afterwards, on 9 June 2016, The Birmingham Botanical Gardens was awarded National Plant Collection status.
Cyclamen is a genus of 23 species of herbaceous tuberous plants. The centre of distribution is the Mediterranean Basin, especially Turkey, with a few species in the Near East and one relict species in Somalia. Cyclamen is a wonderful genus of plants, which could be in flower virtually all year round and displaying a great variation of foliage.
The initial objective was to assemble representatives of each species and subspecies. The majority of the plants was sourced by donations from enthusiast growers and friends, and also bought from specialised nurseries. Several plants that are in the Collection today were or had progressively become unavailable in the horticultural trade. Because of different contacts among the Alpine Garden Society, the Cyclamen Society and Ashwood Nurseries, we were able to donate plants to meet some of our wants. Vic Aspland’s input on wild habitats was considerable, as he have been on five Cyclamen Society Expeditions and studied 15 species in their native habitats. As the collection has gained momentum, other friends and donors have been added. They are many: we are not mentioning them individually here as could forget someone!
Once all the species were represented (with the only exception of the virtually unobtainable C. somalense, only grown at Gothenburg and Uppsala Botanical Gardens), Vic and Nigel began to refine the collection by adding seed-raised plants traceable to known wild locations. It is important to have such plants as these provide a resource for present and future conservation and research Important also to state here that the Collection does not display expedition-collected plants. In the meantime, we also began to add cultivars (but not standard florist cyclamen) having superior horticultural merit. Some had to be raised from seed, imposing a 2-3 year delay into the process (…but time well spent!)
In 2014 Roy Skidmore and Denise Bridges, members of both Alpine Garden Society and Cyclamen Society, started specialised volunteering work on the Collection. They have diligently been helping help to maintain the collection in great condition. In February 2018 the Botanical Gardens staged an exhibit of Cyclamen at the Early Spring Show held at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lawrence Hall In Westminster were awarded Gold Medal. In November 2019 the Gardens was visited by Assistant Professor Alastair Culham from the University of Reading and a research student for the purpose of studying some of the documented wild-origin plants. The University has performed a large body of research on cyclamen (partly funded by the Cyclamen Society), and is at the forefront of current DNA research on the genus. A statement in the paper emphasised the importance of ‘meticulously curated and cared for living plant collections’.
Today, the National Collection of Cyclamen species is still developing. Nigel Hopes left the BBG for taking a post as Head Gardener at John’s Garden at Ashwood. Vic Aspland resigned as Horticultural Trustee after 20 years of service, but is still very involved as horticultural volunteer with his wife Jan.
We grow Cyclamen species both indoor and outdoor. C. hederifolium, C. coum, C. pseudoibericum, and C. graecum are hardy and grown in the external areas. Our Cyclamen hederifolium and cultivars flower in autumn, and cultivated en masse in several different locations in the Gardens. The hardy, magenta flowered Cyclamen coum flower in December to March. Also, our rarer, tender Cyclamen persicum (the wild species from which the florist cyclamen come from) flower inside our nursery glasshouses during December to March and emit their wonderful fragrance. In winter 2019 we open the new Alan King Alpine Garden, which display alpine, subalpine, montane and Mediterranean flora all from Europe. In these rocky beds and borders, the genus Cyclamen is finding increasing natural representation. We aim to display as many as possible hardy species here, species whose hardiness is not yet fully tested in this Country. Recently a proposal for a new “Cyclamen Habitats Border” has been advanced, and will represent yet another different way for showcasing our Collection, and perhaps do something rather new…
On the other hand, in the glasshouses we keep the most precious, rare and tender species and specimens. The plants are grown in pots (terracotta but also plastic, depending to the size of the tubers), and kept in three different locations indoor, depending to the growing requirements. Best time to see the Collection is October till March.
Our first aspiration for the future is line breeding, in order to increase the consistency of seed strains and maybe in the course of this develop new and superior characteristics. When raising plants from seed of some cultivars, only a small proportion of the seedlings come true to type. Some species, e.g. C. hederifolium subsp. crassifolium have been little-exploited by breeders. We have a few ideas for new cultivars we may be able to introduce in due course, and have a couple in the development pipeline. But for the present these ideas are under wraps!