White Bleeding Hearts

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) 5 hearts
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) 5 hearts

The strings of white hearts, suspended from the stems of Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ (white bleeding heart) add elegance to the shade garden. These medium sized perennials bloom from spring to early summer.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) new buds
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) new buds

Here the new buds are dangling under the stem in early spring. The white outer petals are still held tight against the bud.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) buds and flower
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) buds and flower

Now the first heart is open, and the other little buds are starting. The buds closest to the main stem start first, and gradually the whole necklace of hearts opens. These little white flowers look great in the shade, and last about 6 weeks. You can see a few lily of the valley flowers behind this plant, and a tiny peek of Brunnera blue. I also have some Epimedium in front. All three plants look good with white bleeding hearts, and their blooming times overlap, so they make a nice grouping together.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' string of flowers
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' string of flowers

The bleeding heart foliage stays fresh through the summer in my garden, since it doesn’t get too hot or dry for it. In fall, after the frost, the leaves turn yellow, and stay colourful for a while before dropping.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) 6 hearts
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) 6 hearts

These elegant perennials are about 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 feet), making a nice sized plant for the middle of the border. My two  ‘Alba’ plants have a number of stems of hearts, that make a good show.

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) 8 hearts
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (white bleeding heart) 8 hearts

The pure white flowers are highly visible in the shade areas, and look graceful against the medium green leaves. These are one of those perennials that looks attractive at dusk.  As other plants start blending into the shadows, Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ is glowing. Bleeding hearts are a classic plant for the shade garden, and this white form looks especially nice under the trees .

27 thoughts on “White Bleeding Hearts”

  1. Beautiful!! It was already on my list of plants to add, I have 2 pink ones, but the white is stunning (I love white flowers). I’ll also look at the Fernleaf Bleeding Heart Dicentra formosa, it might be perfect for a smaller spot.

    1. Rebecca, the white form of Dicentra spectabilis is a little smaller than the pink ones. The plant looks pretty with the other spring flowers.

      Katarina, the flowers have such a clean white colour, that they look fantastic in the shade. I love the white behind the blue Brunnera.

      Marnie, I suppose your prime planting time is over now that the temperatures are warming up. You do get 6 weeks of blooms, which is fairly long for a spring plant. I think in hot areas they might die back for the summer. Here they keep their foliage until fall, and they get a bright colour after the frost.

      Helen J, I was going to add the word ‘elegant’ to the title before publishing, and then forgot, so it’s interesting that so many commenters mention that description for the plant. I like the way the flower stems are carried out from the plant, with all of the beautiful white hearts arranged in rows.

      Easygardener, I give mine a drink with the hose, if it hasn’t rained, but I think it helps that they are in the shade, and only get some morning light.

  2. I do like the white variety. It is very elegant. Dicentra don’t do too well in my dryish soil and it is the white one which suffers the most. Perhaps I should try it again if I can find a suitable spot, your pictures have reminded me how lovely it is.

  3. You are right about it glowing at dusk. It is an evening star in the garden. And, oh yes, it is the epitome of elegance. I have a weakness for white blooms anyway, but these really are lovely.

    I bought one at the end of last summer and I am thrilled it has made it through all the upheaval of the landscaping. It is in a pot right now while I decide where to put it. (I have a feeling it will have a few more join in before the season is out :)

    1. The Garden Ms. S, I like to have a last look out my window at the garden at night, and it’s always delightful when the white flowers and silver leaves are still visible in the lingering light. The pure white like ‘Alba’ are the most noticeable.

    1. Plant Lady, I’m pleased with these white Dicentra behind shorter spring flowering perennials. The leaves make a nice backdrop, and the white flowers coordinate with everything. It makes a nice fresh spring grouping.

    1. Joanne, I think that the white bleeding heart would fit in beautifully with your cottage garden.

      Rebecca, I did see them around town last weekend, but I visited a few places, and I’m not sure which they were at. They grow fairly quickly to their size, and look nice even the first year you plant them.

  4. In my sandy, fairly dry, shade garden, Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ performs quite well. I used to have the pink one, too, but made the mistake of trying to move it once. The roots of D. spectabilis are fleshy and brittle, and resent disturbance.

    However, I’m happy I have only the white one now. It seeds itself all over the place, and I’m often giving away babies. Don’t know if the seeds have to be fresh, or I’d offer them out.

    First fell in love with it at Larkwhistle, a wonderful garden on the Bruce Peninsula. If you’ve read the Harrowsmith Perennial Garden, you’ve seen this space created by Patrick Lima and his partner. Patrick had a mass of three or four white bleeding hearts in his “white garden”. As soon as I saw that, I had to have it in my garden!

    Unfortunately, the bleeding heart didn’t share my opinion about where it was best to grow. It still feels that way, and most of the time, I agree. Still, I’m always scatter a few seed pods in “my” hoped-for places, and cross my fingers.

    Amazingly, thanks to the long, cool spring, it’s still blooming here now at almost the end of June. Hope this sudden heat doesn’t cut it off at the knees.

    1. Helen, I haven’t noticed seedlings from my plants yet, after 4 or so years. They must indeed like your site. It sounds like your plants decided to choose their own location. In the end, there’s always a bit of a compromise in the garden, so if the pretty Dicentra are happy, it works out well. I appreciate their extended blooming time.

      I have seen pictures of the garden in the book, and another of his perennial books. It would be great to tour and view the garden in person.

  5. Northern Shade, is your ‘alba’ in a shady area? I planted mine, but it’s getting more sun that I thought it would, and after pruning an old lilac I have a more shaded spot that also gets more soil moisture. Just wondering where it would be happier. :)

    1. Rebecca, yes, mine are fairly shaded. They are under the edge of a willow tree, and backed by a fence to the west. They get an hour or two of morning light, and seem to really like this location. I think they can take sunnier locations than this, but you would want to make sure they don’t dry out, if it’s too sunny. In hotter zones, or if they dry out, I think they die back and go dormant for the summer. Mine stay fresh until the frosts.

  6. Thanks for the info, I think I will move it so that it’s under the edge of the lilac, between a burning bush & blue fox willow. It’ll also be shaded by a weeping birch to the north of it, but will get some filtered sun in the late afternoon/early evening. I had it next to my new blizzard mockorange, but I’ll put a Phlox paniculata ‘David’ in it’s place. Sometimes hard (but fun!) to make sure everyone has the right neighbours, both for appearance & growing conditions. :)

    1. Rebecca, it sounds like you’re having fun finding just the right spot for all your new plants. Your yard must be looking good with the new additions. You should take before and after shots so you can compare it next year, as things start to fill in. Besides, they give you something to look at in the winter. :)

  7. It is a lot of fun! We’ve been here for about 6 years, and the mature yard had quite a few large trees and shrubs, but more gaps than I like, so every year I add a few shrubs & perennials to fill it in. My favorite addition this year is a Mme Lemoine Lilac, treeform. The white blooms are stunning, and I can’t wait to watch it as it matures. The pictures along the side of your house remind me of my side makeover, there are about 8 feet between the sidewalk & fence, and previously it was filled with gravel and low junipers. It’s since been changed to sod, with a 2 foot bed along the fence with a variety of summer flowering perennials, the ones that do best are the heliopsis and carpathian bellflowers, neither seem to mind that they get quite a bit of shade.

    1. Rebecca, it’s great to start with mature trees, since they have such an impact on the atmosphere of the garden, and take so long to come into their own. I wish I had room for another lilac, love the fragrance.

  8. The lilac shrubs trained to a tree take up considerably less space than a lilac shrub, or full grown tree. I suspect at maturity the tree with be something like a 5-6ft ball on a 4-5ft trunk. I’m also surprised at how much more sun the foliage gets, just by being raised off the ground a few feet.

  9. I was wondering if I sent a photo if you could tell
    me if these leaves are Bleeding heart.
    dug some roots up for my girlfriend but want to make sure that what they are.
    it was where my White Bleeding Heart was Hugs Dawn.

  10. I transplanted several small pink bleeding heart plants to a backyard shady spot a few years back and they are spreading nicely. Last year I noticed a white plant among them, and this year there are more. I never purchased a white plant and have none in my original plant. Is this common? I can’t say that I ever saw white ones til last year. What are your thoughts?

    1. Made in the Shade, it sounds like your plants might have produced a natural variation, but I don’t think this is common, or a white bleeding heart seeded in from a neighbouring garden.

      White flowers are great in the shade, as they are more visible in the shadows, and brighten up the darker areas.

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