Whether A plant seems beautiful or "showy" depends on the eyes of the gardener, and some gardeners see much merit in any plant less solid withflamboyant color than a large plot of azaleas.
Others, however get carries away by little weeds from a remote crag-plants that if you look carefully you can see ah, yes, it is indeed in flower.
Between the bonfires and the gnats, as you might say, bloom many a plant conspicuous enough to please the nearly blind but elegant ehough (in foliage texture, growth habit, articulation of flower shape, delicacy of color) to please the fastidious.
And a perfect example of a perfect plant isbleeding heart, Dicentraspectabilis, also known as Dutchmen's breeches and lady-in-bath. More about that later.
Within a few weeks, say early April, we may expect to see these plants sold in cans at garden centers - I bought a splendid one a couple of years ago from the plant stand at Washington Cathedral - usually in bud or bloom. If planted outdoors in a half-shaded spot and well watered, thcreature will never know it has been moved.
It is a shock to those unfamiliat with the plant, to see it turn yellowish and die away completely in the summer.
This does not mean you went wrong somewhere . Pay no attention. In early spring there will again be signs of life, and in April there will be the usual sheaves of leaf and flower, better as the years go by.
The plant forms a substantial clump of leaves, eventually knee-high, of soft blue-green leaflets, halfway between a maidenhair fern and celery or meadow rue, in general appearance.
Above them, in little wobbly arcs (farching forth, but often turning up a bit at the ends), come sprays of flower, eight or 10 inches along.
All along this bloomstalk hang little rosy hearts, like valentines hung up to dry. They are up to an inch in length. The color is clear cherry mixed with cream, wonderfully clean and pure, though various tints are found in each flower. The color is like that of Clematis texensis, if you know that marvelous plant, and has much the softness and clarity of certain sweet peas.
The result of this lovely color in little arcs over the blue-green leaves is a picture of high elegance combined with vigor. Everything about it is reasonable, but highly imaginative also. Some plants - by no means all, or even a great many - manage to arrive at a flawless balance between showiness and restraint, between coarseness and over-subtlety.
It depends, as I say, on the gardener's way of looking at plants, but I would always be willing to be counted a great friend of the bleeding heat.
Now about that bath with the lady. If you take an individual flower and turn it upside down and pull on the two side places, they open up to disclose a lady (a very pale one) in a boat or tub, and there is a fitness about the name, lady-in-a-bath, because the whole thing looks so cleans and rosy and innocent. Wholesome, with a dash of the erotic.
There are other dicentras (a yellow one from the West that I have not seen, but which is worth investigating, I imagine) including various named varieties such as 'Bountiful' and 'Luxuriant' and a couple of wild forms, too, from out own country. Attractive as they are, and some of them have the merit of a longer blooming season than the bleeding heart we have been discussing, none is so beautiful, to my mind, as the lady-in-the-bath, D. spectabilis. The others are smaller plants, and the flowers are not borne so gracefully, and the colors tend toward madder, and in general they manage to miss the perfection of D. spectabilis.
They are by no means to be despised, though, and I have grown them, two or three of them, in the past with great pleasure.
A further word on just where to put the big bleeding heart, which winds up the size of a young peony clump. Suppose there is a bed on the north side of the house, with maybe a hydrangea and a couple of camellias. It is a good place for the bleeding heart.
The soil ideally should be fairly light - sand and leaf mold - and rich - occasional top dressings of rotted manure.
This does not mean the bleeding hear sulks in gardens with heavy clay loams. It does mean that it appreciates some lightening of the clay with leaf mold and sand.
Over the years it strikes me the plant is attractive to dogs, but that may be only because I have always grown it in some place of great interest to dogs, such as the kitchen steps. With me, they are forever stepping on it, until I get around to putting up a little barrier.
You should not imagine that the plant is happy only near a north wall. It has grown since 1816 (the year of its introduction from Japan) very contendely in regular garden borders, where it consorts well with lavender and primrose-colored tulips, to give an example.
In such borders you should keep in mind that from the Fourth of July on, there will be a gap until next spring.Neighboring plants that flop over a bit are called for. You would not dig right down into its dormant crown to plant a gladiolus, of course, but you might lot some artemistias or forget-me-nots or any such plant sprawl over the top of the estivating bleeding heart. (Such plants of course die back in winter, leaving the space free for the emerging bleeding heart in the spring.)
I Have never investigated this but suspect a clump of bleeding hearts might last in a garden for 30 years or so. If the clump gets too enormous, it can be divided in early spring, shortly after it sprouts out, but no time should be lost getting it back into the ground, of course. One would not want the lady's bath water to get cold or, God forbid, dryout.