Thursday, 12 May 2011

Bleeding Hearts...

Surprisingly, some of our most delicate looking plants are amongst the toughest and this is certainly the case with the beautiful ‘Bleeding Heart’ or Dicentra spectabilis as it is scientifically known. Its fleshy pink shoots appear so brittle and tender when they first push through in spring. They quickly reach up to two feet or more in height and seem strangely insubstantial in holding aloft the graceful ferny foliage. Those watery stems are well up to the job however and more than capable of supporting the plant’s copious flowering too.

Those flowers look just like little pink hearts and dangle down in a long line beneath the slender, arching flower stems. They really are the prettiest things and are seen to best effect where a shaft of sunlight can shine through them, showing off their almost translucent quality. It is little wonder that they have been cottage garden favorites since the 1840s when they were first introduced from their native China.
A plant so popular and so pretty has picked up a few other common names along the way. ‘ Lady’s Locket’ and ‘Lyre Flower’ describe perfectly the shape of the blooms. As does ‘Dutchman’s Breeches,’ if you are familiar with Dutch trouser fashion of times gone by. My favourite name for it though is ‘Lady in the Bath.’ To see how this works, you must pluck off an individual flower, then holding it upside down, gently pull apart its deep pink sides. There, revealed within, is the pale slim lady of the name enjoying the moment in her victorian roll-top bath. 
Whatever you call them, these are beautiful plants in the garden. Quite content in part shade, they also cope well with full sun so long as the soil always remains moist. There is a white flowered form and a lovely golden leaved variety, but to my mind, the original is still the best. The particular pink hue of its flowers is hard to place, but somehow it seems to remind me of 1950/60s plastics. Don’t let this put you off, but do take a closer look next time you meet one, and see if you agree.
Their only failing is that their late spring/early summer magnificence does not last. As temperatures rise and the ground dries, the plants die back and disappear. They are only resting though and burst through with renewed vigour, yet apparent delicacy, next spring.

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