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by Nancy Schramm

Hearts & Flowers

At the risk of being considered a sappy sentimentalist, this month I'd like to tell you how the plant world celebrates St. Valentine's Day. To begin with, here is a silly little story that plays with the common names of plants.

"This is a tale of how Sweet William complimented the Maidenhair of Sweet Nancy and used a Love-charm when he asked her to Kiss-Me-over-the-Garden-Gate. Then, with their Hearts Entangled, Sweet Nancy gave him a Love Apple and they found themselves walking through Love-in-a-Mist. Despite Sweet William's Heart of Flame, they argued and discovered, in sadness, Love Lies Bleeding. But, standing under the Love Tree, the Lad's Love created some Heart's Ease with the gift of a Ladies Earring. The Ladies' Delight was a Love-restorer and gave them hope for a happy Everlasting." And that's more than enough foolishness!

Now let's look at some delightful plants that carry their hearts on their sleeves, literally. All of these plants have either heart-shaped leaves or flowers.
Asarum caudatum, (Wild ginger) is a lush groundcover for rich moist soil. Native to the coastal West, the large (up to 7" wide) heart-shaped leaves hide unusual brownish maroon spring flowers. It tolerates deep shade, is mostly evergreen, and can be used effectively in mixed container plantings.
Another shade lover, Epimedium, has heart-shaped leaflets. The whole true leaf is made of a number of leaflets connected by wiry stems. This groundcover needs only moderate water and can have very showy flower spikes standing tall above the leaves. Both foliage and flowers last well when cut.

In past columns I've mentioned how much I adore using Campanula (Bellflower) as a groundcover. Many species sport small heart-shaped leaves, which is the only excuse I need to include it again. For a golden colored, frilly edged leaf, look for C. garganica "Dickson's Gold." Its bright blue flowers are a striking contrast to the foliage.

The last of our groundcovers is Viola odorata. Sweet Violet belongs because of leaf shape, but for some it is the quintessential sweetheart flower. Many species violas have a lovely fragrance, but be careful where you plant them as most are aggressive spreaders.

You may love 'em or hate 'em, but a familiar vine grown for foliage is Hedera helix. Grown in the right situation, and under the right conditions, the miniature forms of English ivy are lovely things. Some ivies have perfect heart-shaped leaves. A variegated form called "Gold Heart" is named for the location of the gold variegation, since the leaf shape is usually a more typical 3-lobed ivy shape.

I hope you aren't bored hearing about shade loving plants yet. There are two more that I have to share. Hosta (Plantain Lily) is grown primarily for its foliage, but the tall flowering stalk can be both attractive and fragrant. There are hundreds (thousands?) of varieties available with almost infinite combinations of variegation and leaf shape. Leaves range from lance shape to almost round, with some, of course, perfect hearts. Give your Hosta rich moist shade, in the ground or container, and watch out for snails!
Dicentra (Bleeding heart) is the very first plant I think of when I think of Valentine's Day. The flowers are exquisite little hearts hanging in a row on an arching flower stalk. The foliage is usually blue-green, and very lacy in appearance. Give them the same growing conditions as Hosta. Both Hosta and Dicentra die to the ground in the winter.

Next, how about a couple of houseplants with a heart-shaped connection? Anthurium is probably the most spectacular. Most people connect them with Hawaii, but they are native to the tropical American rainforests. The most common ones have large heartshaped flower bracts in shades ranging from white through red. They have a flower spike reminiscent of calla lilies. The dramatic flower bracts are quite rigid and very shiny. They need high humidity and pretty warm temperatures, but can be grown indoors successfully.

A rewarding indoor vine that I told you about in October is Hoya (Wax plant). One species, H. kerri (Sweetheart hoya) fits right in this month with its heart-shaped leaves. Something different to notice about this plant is that the leaf stem connects at the bottom point of the heart, rather than between the lobes as in most other heart shaped leaves.

The fragrant winter flowers on our native Arctostaphylos (Manzanita) are commonly described as "urn-shaped," but to me they look like little hearts. And since I just saw a collection at last night's Western Horticultural Society meeting, I am freshly enamored of this terrific plant and just had to squeeze it in. Manzanita has it all ­ blue-green foliage, white or pink flowers followed by berries, and smooth cinnamon colored bark. Amazingly, the forms range from groundcovers to small specimen trees. And that's all for this month!

Copyright. Out and About Magazine

           Third generation owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003. She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.

Contact Nancy at

Western Horticulture Society
PO Box 166, Mountain View, CA 94042
(650) 948-4614 or (650) 941-6136