Gold bleeding-heart and black geraniums

Judith Adam

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'Gold Heart' bleeding-heart (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)
'Gold Heart' bleeding-heart (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)
‘Gold Heart’ bleeding-heart (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

I’m a big fan of the swaying pink lockets of bleeding-heart (Dicentra spectabilis, Zone 3), which to my romantic sentiment is the embodiment of spring. I find it hard to imagine a reason to improve this plant, yet 10 years ago I was certainly taken unawares by the ‘Alba’ version with dangling snowy white lockets, and now have both planted in shady locations throughout the garden. I keep them watered and they stand in fairly good condition until August.

Last summer I encountered a new cultivar, D. spectabalis ‘Gold Heart’,which at that mid-season stage appeared no different than the species. But I was assured all would be revealed in the first month of spring growth, with the promise of rhubarb-red stems and butter-yellow foliage. I’m a bit conservative when it comes to gilding the lily, or in this case, the bleeding-heart. The reputed red and yellow spring colouring didn’t strike me as any kind of improvement, and I also wondered if the plant for sale could possibly be mislabelled. But remembering the Latin proverb “fortune favours the bold,” I bought it.

Fortune did reward me that day for D. spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ is a lovely plant this spring. The rising stems really are rhubarb-red, and the new foliage has a decidedly yellow-chartreuse tone (stem and leaf colours fade in summer). What makes this so pleasing is that the colours are clear enough to be noticeable, but not garish, over-saturated or iridescent. The integrity of the plant is handsomely embellished without overwhelming the beauty of the specimen. ‘Gold Heart’ is worth a try if you’re feeling bold and have a soft spot for bleeding-hearts. (Incidentally, bleeding-hearts have been shifted to the genus Lamprocapnos, but it will be a while before we start seeing this name at nurseries and garden centres.)

Another favourite, the mourning widow cranesbill (Geranium phaeum, Zone 5), shares moist organic bed space with my bleeding-hearts. If you’ve had G. phaeum in your garden, you probably know how prolifically it seeds around, and can become a nuisance. But this is a charming plant, with white-eyed, dark maroon flowers and brown spots or blotches on the foliage. Fortunately, the plant’s few cultivars are decidedly less fecund with their seed. I have some patches of G. phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’ that make a useful number of seedlings, and no more than that.

I was never fond of the brown-spot patterns on the leaves, although they aren’t prominent and are easily ignored. Through some mystery of plant breeding, G. phaeum now has two cultivars with bright splashes on deeply incised foliage. ‘Margaret Wilson’ (30 x 18 inches/75 x 45 cm) has mint green leaves with prominent silver-painted markings (no brown spots) and mauve-purple (lighter than the species) flowers in late spring. The bright leaves bring light into shady borders. ‘Springtime’ is shorter (18 x 15 inches/45 x 38 cm), with dark maroon flowers and a starburst suffusion of cream at the centre of each leaf, bleeding out and down the lobes to combine with brown blotches in a fetching way. In both cultivars, the variegated foliage is a lovely foil for the shy and dark mourning widow flowers. These are thoughtfully designed plants, and an asset in the shade border.

Clean watering cans

You might have seen my article about garden hoses in the spring issue of Garden Making, which noted that fungi and other disease organisms lurk in the moist and warm interior of a hose. Until recently, I never thought about what pathogens could be lurking in watering cans. A watering can is considerably more open than a hose, but the metal seam around the bottom and the interior of the spout (particularly if there is a rose attached) often retain moisture. There have been times in summer when my cans have been slimy or slippery at the bottom.

I often fill a couple of cans with water and let them sit in a corner, just for convenience. I grab them when needed and don’t have to stop at the spigot. The cans are used every day, but often they sit filled overnight, and they’re seldom entirely dry inside. So I’ve scrubbed all the cans out with a stiff wire brush and mild soap, then flushed them thoroughly with clear water. I threaded and dragged a length of nylon rope through the narrow spouts, and pulled it back and forth a few times to scrub the insides.

My new watering can protocol is to empty the cans at day’s end, turn them upside down and lean them against the garage wall to drain and dry overnight. The march of the fungi is not going to travel through my watering cans!

My bumblebee pal

These mornings, when I’m poking about to see what might possibly have developed overnight, I’m accompanied by a yellow- and black-striped, enormous, furry bumblebee with a particularly loud buzz. She flits in a frenzy of feeding through the Chionodoxa and Scilla, landing on diminutive flowers and pulling them down with her bulky weight. This big bee is an adult female queen that overwintered from last year and is ready to start a new colony.

Bumblebees are among the earliest of pollinating bees to emerge in spring, flying low over the terrain, looking for an abandoned chipmunk hole or other small ground cavity to make their new nest. They will land and crawl under leaves, bumble around, and then emerge to fly low, again. The domestic matters of bees are often ingratiating. This queen will find a nest site, then set about collecting grasses, moss and bits of leaves to form a soft lining for her brood. Out in the cool morning air, she carries on a buzzing dialogue and frequently bumps into me, but is faultlessly non-aggressive. However, she does have a territorial instinct about the garden flowers and has several times driven off a marauding carpenter bee (recognized by its hairless and shiny lower abdomen).

Last night I was out for a late stroll in the almost dark garden, well after sunset, and was not alone. The bumbler was still working the nectar-rich Lathyrus vernus flowers as if there was no time to waste. She reminds me that spring is intense and fleeting, and soon passes on to the fullness of summer.

Thanks for stopping by at Making a Garden, and I hope you’ll be back next week.

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