90501There is something about the delicately intricate bloom and foliage of bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis) that suits informal woodland gardens splendidly. Not only to they look like natural companions to small coniferous evergreens, but they are also quite tolerant of the acidic foliar debris, and to some extent, the shade that most conifers generate.

The small and distinctively heart shaped flowers hang vertically from arching limber stems in May or June. They can get as high as three feet if crowded, although they prefer to stay about two feet tall. The most popular varieties bloom with red or pink ‘hearts’ with white tails. ‘Alba’ blooms with white hearts. The palmately compound and lobed leaves are like soft light green anemone leaves.

Bleeding heart not only tolerates significant shade, but it prefers at least partial shade as the weather warms in spring. As the weather gets too warm and arid through late spring and summer, it is likely to defoliate and go dormant until the end of the following winter. Bleeding heart wants rich soil and regular watering too. The tender foliage is intolerant of traffic, so is best in the background.

15 thoughts on “Bleeding Heart

  1. A big thankyou for that one. Mine arrived by seed from a neighbour’s garden and are now about 10 years old. At first just a a few green leaves, but now going on for two feet and covered with flower stalks. A bright welcome to the garden in Spring.

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    1. You are welcome. It is gratifying when the information is useful, especially when it is so limited. This is from the garden column, in which there is only space for about three minor paragraphs.


    1. They don’t like humidity? I figured that they didn’t last here because of the aridity. They do better in the redwood forests, which is sort of in between. It is humid, but not warm.


  2. Thanks for that information. A good candidate for the shady spot on the east side of out house, I’ll have to give it a try. I do like the term “foliar debris”. I can vary that with :leaf litter” and just plain old “fallen leaves” when I put out my request for compostable stuff in the fall.

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    1. ‘Litter’ sounds so trashy to me, like something hikers used to leave strewn about the hiking trails. ‘Fallen leaves’ sound foreign, like something of New England. Foliar debris from redwoods is rather unique, . . . . and abundant.


  3. It is a lovely plant. I’ve been thinking of getting one for Mum’s sunny clay, but having tried putting a spade into the soil, and then reading here that it prefers shade, perhaps not!

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  4. This is such a beautiful and delicate looking plant. I really like the white variety as well. I planted it once in my garden but it got crowded out by stronger neighbours. Might have another go sometime. I guess mulching around it might do the trick.

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    1. I see the native coming up in the forest, but they do not do much before dying back. They are foliated so briefly that it is amazing that they store enough resources to go dormant for so long, and then regenerate next year.


    1. The white shows up better in the partly shaded situations that they are so popularly planted into. It looks so sharp against other dark green foliage that typically grows in the shade. (I happen to like the white ones because I really like white!)

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