Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Garden Story

Bleeding Hearts

The white form of dicentra spectabilis, the common bleeding heart, is a lesson in pure elegance. It grows happily in quite deep shade which it relieves with the fresh green of its filigreed leaves and the heart-shaped ivory pendants of its inflorescences. Combined with hostas and pulmonarias, it offers just the right touch of lightness, like the finely wrought lace on the otherwise stern dress of an Elizabethan gentleman.

Gardeners love the bleeding heart for its kind-natured temperament. It is easy to grow (although the white form somewhat less so than its pink sibling), starts flowering early enough to be used with tulips in the same colors for an unbeatable combination, yet continues, at least in northern gardens, for several more weeks after the tulips have packed it in. Its only character flaw is its penchant for early dormancy. In my garden it goes underground by the end of July, leaving its absence as notable as its presence was earlier.

This can be avoided by choosing some other form of dicentra, such as dicentra eximia. But the romantic in me prefers the common bleeding heart. The Finns call it the broken heart, and this is how I always think of the plant; a sufferer from unrequited love, true, but one which valiantly tries to go on, producing love offering after love offering in the shape of small hearts for all to admire. Yet each and every one of them emerges broken.

At last it simply can't tolerate this any longer. Like so many unhappy young lovers in books, plays and operas, it chooses an early death over a loveless existence.

So sad, don't you think? But also so right, somehow, if we wish our gardens to reflect all life, not just its happy hours.