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Garden with a Winner!™

Dicentra spectabilis – Lamprocapnos spectabilis – Bleeding Heart


I have very fond memories from my childhood with particular reference to my parent’s garden(s). The region of Ontario that I called home didn’t have a particularly great growing season, at least in those days, as the banana belt of southern Ontario. Nevertheless, the perennials that survived the somewhat harsh winters, were always a welcomed surprize come April. One perennial that was always a sure bet, other than the emerging Rhubarb, was Bleeding Heart or eventually as I learned the binomial as Dicentra spectabilis, know called Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Regardless of how this plant is named, it is relentlessly tolerant of less than ideal conditions. It is important to understand that this plant enjoys the coolness of spring weather coupled with a shady, woodland exposure. Think of that particular spot, under a tree or tucked away in the shady corners of the garden, and this will be a perfect home for the bleeding heart. The conditions are not over the top difficult to accomplish, many of my childhood plants grew in rather thick clay with little to no amendments. Ideally however, a very rich, humus soil is preferred and will produce outstanding results. Soils that are higher in organic content or humus, tend to be slightly lower pH or acidic, this is great for the bleeding heart. Additionally, higher organic content soils will hold significantly more moisture than those with less humus. Bleeding hearts love moisture and with sufficient water will produce an abundance of blooms. There really is no need to fertilize as the organic matter will suffice, however, an annual dose of well rotted manure is always a good idea. A word to the wise, do not cultivate around the clump until you see the new spring growth emerging. Many a good plants have been lost to the over ambitious spring gardener who scratches away at all the bare soil available . . . I know, I am certainly one of those myself. The reason being is that the new shoots are extremely tender and succulent, so the slightest interruption with a fork, cultivator or even a hand trowel, will break the shoots.
Bleeding heart can reach a fairly good size over time, up to 1 metre (3 ft) tall and about the same in width. Placement in the landscape/garden therefore should be closer to the rear of the bed. They do make an excellent focal point in the early spring garden, so if planted in combination with other perennials that don’t peek out until later in the season, closer to the front for maximal viewing is just fine.
As the weather warms significantly, the bleeding heart starts to decline rapidly as well if the soil is too wet for an extended period of time. I have found that once the foliage starts to yellow it is best to remove the offending material to avoid leaf spot and other insidious conditions. The roots will remain active for the remainder of the year so don’t be too anxious to move the clump until it has finished flowering and mark the location of the new plant to be sure not to disturb it the following spring. Some of the fringe leafed varieties will re-bloom and re-leaf after being sheared back to the crown. Western varieties are somewhat more tolerant of dry conditions; however, they too succumb to the summer heat. The western fringed leafed bleeding heart tolerates drought conditions better than the rest of the family; it goes by the binomial Dicentra formosa. I have a golden leafed variety in my current front garden, snuggled nicely under a maple tree. This is an excellent variety as it is almost like a punctuation mark in the somewhat shady corner. Ideal also as the deciduous maple has no leaves in the early spring yet provides the much needed shade in the summer.
It is often sold as Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’. It bears a profusion of the standard pink flowers which contrast amazingly well against the yellow foliage. In my rear garden, adjacent to my butterfly garden is the white variety Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’. She seems to be a bit leggier/floppier as the spring expands into early summer. Luckily the delphiniums that grown next to her are well on their way to being giants as her foliage flops and requires attention. The early insects like bumblebees love this plant as she produces sufficient nectar to attract them time and time again.
Many suggest that bleeding hearts are ideal for the woodland garden, whatever you choose to label your work, do not neglect this stalwart standby for the spring garden.