Flowering cheerfully now, Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Linnaeus) T. Fukuhara (bleeding heart) is such a traditional cottage garden favorite in Europe and North America that its Far Eastern origin (China, North Korea, and Russia) comes as a surprise. It is considered one of the Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune’s most successful re-introductions in 1846, although several years would pass until the plant was considered hardy enough outdoors (the Victorians would cultivate L. spectabilis as a cool conservatory pot plant for display). Fortunately its cultivation was and is undemanding – plants are happy in a partial shady site and moist well-drained soil. Because L. spectabilis retreats into summer dormancy, it calls for plant partners that cover the vacated space. An excellent companion would be Brunnera macrophylla (forget-me-not) with its broad heart-like leaves and airy dots of blue flowers that coincide with the bleeding heart flowers. Hostas and ferns are good as well, expanding their foliage as L. spectabilis begins to die down.
The distinctive flowers no doubt invoke ‘bleeding hearts’ and surely inspired people in their fanciful writings and art. Edward Lear somewhat appropriated the floral structure for his nonsensical cartoon entitled ‘Manypeeplia upsidedownia’.
Edward Lear’s “Manypeeplia upsidownia” from Nonsense Botany (1871)
Although ‘Manypeelia upsidownia’ will remain only in our fantasy realm, several variants exist in cultivation – ‘Alba’ or ‘Pantaloons’ has pure white flowers that have enlighten many a woodland garden. ‘Gold Heart’ originated as a sport at the late Hadpsen Garden, Somerset, and takes the show farther with its yellow foliage. Some gardeners may find the pink and yellow rather strident, although the colors are rather striking in my opinion, inspiring me to plant dark pink or purple tulips. Nori and Sandra Pope used Tulipa ‘Greuze’ to pop forth from ‘Gold Heart’ at Hadpsen. Another chance find from Phyllis and Lyle Sarrazin in British Columbia is ‘Hordival’ (sold under Valentine Red), considered a significant color break in its dark red flowers and stems and gray-green leaves. Tulipa ‘Flaming Spring Green’ or ‘Jan Reus’ would be good tulips for ‘Hordival’.