Dicentra 'Alba': a jewel of the garden with glorious white flowers
Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ (also known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’) is a perennial that likes to retreat underground for the winter and re-emerge in the very early spring. 'Doing a disappearing act’ may not sound like a reason to be cheerful, but it is worth it just for the thrill of seeing it burst into life in late February/early March. Few perennials seem to make quite so much of an impact so early in the spring.
D. ‘Alba’ is also a firm favourite for me because it has such interesting flowers. The common name of ‘bleeding heart’ gives a very clear clue to their form and many of us are perhaps more familiar the more commonly seen pink and white variety of Dicentra which goes by the same common name. D. ‘Alba’ is an all-white variety and is much the superior for it in my humble opinion; there is just something about white flowers and the way they seem to shine in natural light, particularly in early evenings.
Growing to heights and widths of 0.5-0.75m, D. ‘Alba’ forms lush clumps of light green foliage. The flowers are borne on arching stems, often in lines of five or six individual blooms. Pure white, perfectly heart-shaped and no more than 2cm or so in size, they are the most delicate looking flowers. Given favourable conditions, they tend to last for a large part of April and May.
Originating from the edges of woodlands, Dicentras tend to be happiest in partial shade. D. ‘Alba’, is no exception to this and can quickly dry out in south-facing positions if it is exposed to prolonged periods of full-sun. The plant itself may survive but the foliage can suffer badly and the flowering display is rather curtailed. It is, however, hardy enough for all but the worst of British winters and can cope with most soil types providing they aren’t excessively dry.
D. ‘Alba’ is generally resistant to pests and diseases, but it is toxic if ingested and the foliage can aggravate some skin allergies. These won’t be reasons not to have the plant for most sensible gardeners, but anybody susceptible to these sorts of issues will probably be wise to wear gloves if working nearby.
For garden designers like me, D. ‘Alba’ is a wonderful plant. It is perfect for a mixed planting scheme, especially those which lean towards a ‘cottage garden’ style. It provides particularly excellent foliage contrast with those plants with finer foliage. I love, for example, to use it alongside some of the shorter grasses like Stipa tenuissima, but it can also looks fabulous next to large leaved plants such as Heuchera, Alchemilla and Geraniums.
Dicentra ‘Alba’ is one of the definite jewels in our gardens. With fresh green textural foliage and dainty heart-shaped white flowers it is a perfect choice for any mixed planting scheme.
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