Winter blooms

Judy Zugish is a woman in love.

Yes, only someone truly smitten could spend hours in an unheated greenhouse on a particularly cold Northwest winter day with no hat or gloves talking about the glory of a single type of plant: a hardy cyclamen.

“Aren’t they incredible?”

Zugish said, looking down at a sea of emerald green leaves and hot pink blooms with her longtime friend and business partner, Bill Roeder, who is equally lovesick over these particular perennials.

In the specialty nursery world, Zugish and Roeder are a rarity as hardy cyclamen growers at Bouquet Banque Nursery of Marysville, which Zugish has run since 1979 as a small farm and nursery.

Though hardy cyclamen thrive in Northwest gardens, growing them professionally from seed is a long and painstaking process.

Zugish and Roeder started seriously growing cyclamen in 2001 with a variety of corms — similar to bulbs — purchased mostly from renowned grower Peter Moore of England.

Only last year, however, did they have enough stock to start selling large quantities directly to home gardeners.

“You have to be pretty intense about the whole thing,” Zugish said. “They have to bloom two years for us. We have them for four to five years before they hit the market.”

This year, Zugish and Roeder will host retail sales on Saturday and Feb. 6, with an aim to sell 4,500 plants to collectors and other cyclamen lovers.

Zugish and Roeder, thanks to their growing supply of mature cyclamen stock, are being courted by a large East Coast grower who is interested in using their pristine plants to propagate even larger quantities for sale around the world.

“Nobody else is doing this,” said Zugish, who quit her day job about 10 years ago to focus on cyclamen. “It’s too labor intensive for anyone but real plant nerds to do. It teaches you a kind of patience that you would never think of.”

Though the plants grow to only about 4 inches high, and look miniature when compared to larger cyclamen grown as houseplants, hardy cyclamen are enchanting as ground covers, Zugish said.

“I feel like they belong in everyone’s garden,” she said, citing the plants’ off-season interest and perennial ease.

Cyclamen coum’s kidney-shaped leaves emerge in late autumn or early winter. Flowers appear afterward between December and March, with the biggest show starting right about now.

Cyclamen hederifolium varieties, which have more ivylike or heart-shaped leaves, are perhaps even more interesting with their flowers emerging first, naked, in September and October, followed by a profusion of foliage that lasts well into spring.

Blooms come in a wide variety of magenta and purple shades as well as ghostly bluish whites. Hardy cyclamen are dormant and drought resistant in summer (once established), making them low-maintenance, high-reward investments, Zugish said.

Zugish recommends planting hardy cyclamen in well-drained, not overly rich soil, ideally at the edge of a border that offers some shade in summer but bright light or even direct sun in winter.

“I get more blooms from them when they are more exposed,” she said.

Of course, cyclamen could be planted for the beauty of their foliage alone, Roeder said, adding that varieties feature leaves ranging in color from dark green to light ethereal silvers.

Cyclamen leaves also sport intriguing symmetrical shapes, blotches and veining patterns that home gardeners often find hard to resist, he said.

OK, so you’ve been warned, plant addicts.

Even after more than 10 years of cyclamen growing, Zugish can’t get enough of her precious perennials: “You get seduced by a plant, and there you are.”

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037, sjackson@heraldnet.com.

Hardy cyclamen sale

What: Bouquet Banque Nursery of Marysville, which is typically open only by appointment or for special sales, hosts its second-annual hardy cyclamen sale, including cyclamen coum and cyclamen hederifolium varieties and other unusual perennials. Visitors are invited to tour the propagation greenhouses.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Feb. 6

Where: Bouquet Banque Nursery, 8220 State Ave., Marysville, is across the street from the Co-op Supply store. Look for a small wooden sign and follow a small driveway that crosses over the railroad tracks.

Information: See www.twigtwisters.com for a list of varieties or call 360-659-4938.

Cost: Four-inch pots are $9. Six-inch pots are $16. All pots are extra deep, also known as banded pots.

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