Valentine’s in May

Lamprocapnos spectabilis (the species formally known as Dicentra
) is an easy, tough, arctic-hardy, spring-blooming perennial
that always makes me happy. I’ve posted previously about the wonders of
‘Gold Heart’ – all the screaming yellow foliage you can stand, topped
with magenta flowers.

Last fall, I’d finally gotten my mitts on a hard-to-find one named ‘Valentine’.  Already dormant in the pot, I planted it with hopes that it would somewhat resemble the tag photo (and hype) as I’d not seen it in person. What a treat when it finally unfurled last week…woo hoo!

Pride of Place Plants is the introduction and marketing firm (“plant sports agents” as I call companies like this. Pun intended).   According to Pride of Place, ‘Valentine’ (USPP22739,COPF etc.) arose as a chance seedling in the garden of Phyllis and Lyle Sarrazin, Prince George British Columbia, Canada.

This is a true “color break” for the species.  The heart-shaped flowers glow fluorescent red, and the dark red stems really pop against the rest of springtime’s green. Keep it away from pink stuff, though. Yeek.

Possibly available at a fine independent garden center near you; or through mail-order – I know Plant Delights Nursery carries it.

The Other Lamb’s Ears

I’m assuming even you tree people (aka other
Garden Professors) are familiar with the soft, silvery leaves of Stachys
or Lamb’s Ear (variously Lamb Ears and Lamb’s Ears).  Not to
disparage S. byzantina, but in our part of the world it looks like a
pile of wet dryer lint in the winter; and can become similarly
disfigured during a hot, wet summer.  Spring brings bright,
pet-able new ears, followed by woolly flower spikes that could serve as
Q-tips for Shrek. Runs/reseeds like a banshee in my home garden.
Dr. Allan Armitage notes, “We’ve been lamb-eared to death.”

But there are several other species of
garden-worthy Stachys, one of which is garnering lots of attention in
our campus garden at the moment. Behold, Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ – Wood Betony or Alpine

Also sold under S.
and S. densiflora. Most nurseries seemed to have settled on
S. monieri
, but that specific epithet does not appear in the ITIS
(Integrated Taxonomic Information Systems) database. Armitage lists it as a cultivar
of S. officinalis and then has S. monieri as a separate species.

Regardless of pedigree, ‘Hummelo’ is a terrific perennial.
Clumps of glossy green scallop-edged foliage are topped with
spikes of rosy-lavender flowers throughout the summer. Heat- and
cold-tolerant; it’s hardy from Zones 4 to 8. Full sun or part shade,
drought tolerant, deer resistant…what’s not to like?

Back to the ubiquitous version of lamb’s ear…we
have a superior selection of S. byzantina with the fabulous cultivar
name of ‘Countess Helene von Stein’. Rarely flowers, and has bigger, tougher leaves that hang in there regardless of humidity. Very effective
when barked at students with a Teutonic accent: “Countess Helene von
Shtein! You vill learn dis plahnt!”  You may find this in
the U.S. under the comparatively boring ‘Big Ears’.