A favorite species in generations of gardens from probably the Victorians onward, the apparently delicate Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is an absolute must-have for any serious perennial gardener! And as much as I hate to keep repeating it, this is another flower that suffered greatly during the recent deep freeze period ... in fact we weren't sure that they'd even recover, after going from thriving 1-1/2 foot plants to a mass of what looked like limp spaghetti, they have finally re-emerged, a bit smaller, more stunted, but still determined to bloom. Believe me, when we saw them coming back, there was significant rejoicing around Casa IVG! These specimens were among the very first perennials we planted back in spring 1999, and have a bit of a reputation in the neighborhood for their ability to reach nearly gigantic heights... most years they top out at about 3-1/2 - 4 feet tall! I doubt they'll get that big this year, but just seeing them survive a very harsh period is testament alone to the tenacity of this old-fashioned favorite.
Ours are planted among maidenhair and leatherwood ferns toward the back of our Woodland garden, where they create a lush backdrop for the other shade perennials planted nearer the sidewalk. If you look closely at other photos of this part of the garden, you'll likely see Dicentra lurking among the other flora.
Cultivation is really pretty simple ... just give them a mostly shady position (early morning light is ideal) in moist, well-drained loamy soil, and once established they are practically indestructible. (April 2007 was proof of that!) Ours have created such a thick crown of growth over the past eight years that if we even tried to divide them, we'd probably end up ruining a shovel or destroying their territory. So we leave well enough alone, and if we have a few too many volunteers (which does happen, thanks to self-seeding!) we just move them or give them as a gift to another gardener who will appreciate them. As my sister has learned the hard way, the worst thing you can do to Dicentra is to plant it in a too sunny spot (e.g. full southern exposure) where it is subject to heat and lack of moisture ... though it will take a year or two to kill them that way, they will not bloom long each spring and will disappear at the first hint of June heat. Give them the cool shade they crave, and the foliage and even a few sporadic blooms will last well into the summer. Once they start turning yellow and dying back, you can safely cut them back and let them rest until the following spring, where they will come back to reward you with masses of blooms once again.