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The Homeowners Column
Love-ly plants for the garden
State Master Gardener Coordinator
Plant lists can read like a dime store novel: love-in-a-mist, love-in-a-puff, lovage and even love grass. Some names such as heartleaf make sense as they describe attributes of the plant, but other names such as love-lies-bleeding are wrapped in folklore. In honor of Valentine's Day, here are a few plants for the passionate gardener.
Heartleaf is a common name since many plant leaves are heart shaped. The houseplant, heartleaf philodendron tolerates a great deal of abuse such as low light and low commitment. Another houseplant is lovejoy, Episcia. A relative of African violets, lovejoy has very attractive dark green or coppery colored leaves with reddish flowers.
Outdoor plants include heartleaf bergenia, Bergenia cordifolia, which has shiny evergreen leaves for the partial shaded flower garden. It's also known as pigsqueak because of the sound made by rubbing the leaves with your fingers. So if your heart belongs to pigs, this is the perfect plant for you. Bergenia looks great in combination with fringed bleeding heart, Dicentra eximia. It grows to 18 inches and has blue green finely dissected leaves with long lasting pink heart-shaped flowers. Some of the newer cultivars such as 'King of Hearts' have very lacy leaves and a long bloom period.
A larger two to three feet tall version is the old fashioned bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis. Its rosy red heart-shaped flowers are on delicate arching stems. It is also called "the living Valentine". Bleeding heart vine, Clerodendrum thomsonae, is a tropical vine with very showy flowers of white and crimson.
For some reason there are many bleeding heart plants. I don't think it has anything to do with their political persuasion, although I did see a bleeding heart liberal plant listed in a Bumpee catalog once.
For the truly adventuresome Valentine, there is exotic love, Mina lobata, a vigorous annual vine. Its dark green fleur-de-lis shaped leaves are practically hidden by the scarlet to creamy yellow tubular flowers held on arching stems.
Another attractive annual vine is love-in-a-puff, Cardiospermum halicacabum. Its white flowers are followed by papery globe shaped seed pods that resemble little green balloons. The pods contain black seeds tattooed with a heart-shaped spot.
One of my favorite names is love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena. It is an annual flower often grown for its delicate seed pods used in everlasting flower arrangements. The blue or pink flowers seem to float above the fine feathery foliage.
In the "not so great a name" category is love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus. It has long red tassel flowers which droop to the ground. Supposedly the flowers were worn by Swedish knights as emblems of incorruptibility during medieval times.
A truly great Valentine name is hearts-a-burstin, Euonymus americanus. It's a native burning bush relative with scarlet seeds enveloped by a papery coat.
Purple love grass, Eragrostis spectabilis, is a native grass 12 to 18 inches tall with airy reddish purple seed heads in late summer.
Herbs are not left out of the love list with the five feet tall lovage, an attractive celery substitute. Another herb, southernwood, is also known as lover's plant or lad's love. Folklore alleged it would stimulate not only a young man's passion, but also the growth of beards. Young men would rub the very pungent leaves on their faces. As I contemplate the overwhelming odor of southernwood on a man's face, I figure a young lad should pick hair or hankering because he won't get both.
A plant with questionable ornamental appeal is love leaves, also known to most of us as burdock or "those stickery things that get on our dogs". Supposedly eating the raw stems of love leaves will stir up lust and was used as a love potion. Pass the potion notion through the neighborhood. It might be a good way to get your garden weeded.