A few years ago I had a small bay window installed in a living room wall, and it was a smart gardening decision. Now I have a cool, bright northwest exposure for flowering winter plants that provides light on three sides. Pots of forced tulips and hyacinths are happy here and their blooms last significantly longer in the cool window, with a daytime temperature of 18°C, going down to about 13°C at night.
Now that we’re close to mid-winter — although you wouldn’t know it from the mild temperatures — I feel the urge to shop for a potted azalea, and perhaps some fancy cyclamens. I’ll look for an azalea with coloured buds, but few open flowers, and a cyclamen with many pointy flowers still tightly furled and low down under the patterned foliage. Plants with their flowers mostly still in tight bud will open in the window and last for six to eight weeks in the cool air. Warmer air deeper into the living room would rush them into bloom, and perhaps even cause the cyclamen to collapse from heat exhaustion. But the window projects out into the cooler climate outdoors, and these plants love it.
Deadheading spent flowers from azaleas and cyclamen also extends their indoor life. The stems of spent cyclamen blooms also need to be removed; do this by running your finger down the length of the stem to where it attaches to the corm, and snap or cut it off there. Monitor your plants’ moisture levels frequently; the azalea in particular will require frequent watering. Their roots fill the pots and leave little room for soil to hold a reserve of moisture. The cyclamen also likes to be evenly moist, but is vulnerable to tissue rot and shouldn’t ever have saturated soil. I give these plants a low dose of fertilizer with every watering, and that seems to keep them happy.
Pots of forced bulbs can be recycled for garden use. Keep the foliage growing after the blooms are finished, providing water and fertilizer until spring daytime temperatures are above freezing and you can get them into the ground. Azaleas can be kept growing, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever repeat their massive flower display. Fancy cyclamen foliage will continue to be decorative into early summer, even when the flowers are finished. When the plants seem to flag and the leaves die down, it’s time for a dry rest in their pots, stowed away in a cupboard until autumn.