How to - Gardening Resources

Growing old-fashioned bleeding hearts

Well loved for its early blooms, bleeding hearts are a mainstay of cottage gardens.

They may be common but bleeding hearts (Dicentra spp.) add elegance and beauty to any garden. Also known as lady's locket and lady in a boat, this quick-growing, clump-forming, classic perennial has been gracing gardens for more than a century, and is well loved for its early blooms and ability to thrive under myriad conditions.

Dicentra (from the Greek words dis, meaning “two”, and kentros, meaning “spurs”, referring to the flower's unusual shape) are spring blooming, but some flower longer than others. Generally, the cooler the location, the longer the blooms will last. Most species come from the forest floors of deep woods and moist canyons and are thus well acclimatized to shade gardens.

Of the more than 150 species of Dicentra, the following are most often grown in Canada and are hardy to Zone 3:

Common bleeding heart (D. spectabilis)
Old-fashioned bleeding heart, a.k.a. valentine flower, is the most familiar to many gardeners and is definitely worthy of notice, which is in fact what spectabilis means. Native to northern China, Korea and Japan, it was introduced to English gardens in 1857, where it still thrives. Growing from 60 to 90 centimetres tall, it features nodding, rose-pink, heart-shaped flowers with protruding white inner petals. The entire plant goes dormant in summer.

D. S. forma alba
This white-flowered form of common bleeding heart has heart-shaped blooms (2.5 centimetres long) borne on one side of, and hanging in a row along, arching racemes above the foliage mound. It has soft green, fern-like leaves. Good soil drainage is essential for plant survival. Foliage goes dormant in summer.

Fringed bleeding heart (D. eximia)
Native to the rocky woods in the Appalachian Mountains, this mound-shaped plant grows to about 45 centi- metres tall and has fine-textured, blue-green leaves. Its chief blooming period is late spring, but with good moisture and deadheading, it will continue to bloom into the fall. Wet soils during winter and dry soils in summer can lead to plant loss. The foliage of fringed bleeding heart persists throughout the growing season.


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