Cuckoo? Yes, I swear.

Cuckoo flower
Cuckoo flower
Cardamine pratensis growing stream-side with Ranunculus ficaria
Growing stream-side with Ranunculus ficaria

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Latin name: Cardamine pratensis (pratensis meaning ‘of a meadow’)

Common name: Cuckoo flower or Lady’s smock

Family: Brassiaceae/Cruciferae

Nativity: Throughout Europe and Western Asia, usually found growing in

damp areas next to streams and meadows, edge of the woods, and roadside

Identification:   approximately 1-2′ in height (40-60 cm), with pinnate leaves and blooms around April/May ranging in colors from pink to white

Information:  This edible plant is aptly named Cuckoo flower due to its bloom period coinciding with the spring calls of the Cuckoo bird. The young stems, leaves, and flowers are all edible with a slight peppery taste that works well in salads.  It is also food for the Orange-tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines, both in larval and adult stages.    -J

Cuckoo flower in full bloom
Woodland meadow

Noting notes

Myosotis sylvatica
Myosotis sylvatica*

Don’t forget to take notes, it is important to document your successes and failures including ideas you might want to improve upon for next year in the garden, such as combinations, quantity of plants, or spacing issues.  We  noticed here in our garden, Gravetye Manor, that we need to plant more Tulipa turkestanica among our dark purple flowering Helleborus orientalis for a much stronger visual impact.

Equally important, jot down what you see when viewing exhibitions when visiting museums and galleries. It is easier to cross-reference the ideas that interest you, such as artists, movements and periods, which can always be further researched later on.  Saving your tickets in these books is a way to easily note where you have been, what you have seen and when, since they already have the museum, date, and exhibition name included on it. -James

*Don't forget your notebook.
*Don’t forget your notebook.

Bleeding Heart


Flowering cheerfully now, Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Linnaeus) T. Fukuhara (bleeding heart) is such a traditional cottage garden favorite in Europe and North America that its Far Eastern origin (China, North Korea, and Russia) comes as a surprise. It is considered one of the Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune’s most successful re-introductions in 1846, although several years would pass until the plant was considered hardy enough outdoors (the Victorians would cultivate L. spectabilis as a cool conservatory pot plant for display). Fortunately its cultivation was and is undemanding – plants are happy in a partial shady site and moist well-drained soil.  Because L. spectabilis retreats into summer dormancy, it calls for plant partners that cover the vacated space. An excellent companion would be Brunnera macrophylla (forget-me-not) with its broad heart-like leaves and airy dots of blue flowers that coincide with the bleeding heart flowers. Hostas and ferns are good as well, expanding their foliage as L. spectabilis begins to die down.


The distinctive flowers no doubt invoke ‘bleeding hearts’ and surely inspired people in their fanciful writings and art. Edward Lear somewhat appropriated the floral structure for his nonsensical cartoon entitled ‘Manypeeplia upsidedownia’.


Edward Lear’s “Manypeeplia upsidownia” from Nonsense Botany (1871)

Although ‘Manypeelia upsidownia’ will remain only in our fantasy realm, several variants exist in cultivation – ‘Alba’ or ‘Pantaloons’ has pure white flowers that have enlighten many a woodland garden. ‘Gold Heart’ originated as a sport at the late Hadpsen Garden, Somerset, and takes the show farther with its yellow foliage. Some gardeners may find the pink and yellow rather strident, although the colors are rather striking in my opinion, inspiring me to plant dark pink or purple tulips. Nori and Sandra Pope used Tulipa ‘Greuze’ to pop forth from ‘Gold Heart’ at Hadpsen. Another chance find from Phyllis and Lyle Sarrazin in British Columbia is ‘Hordival’ (sold under Valentine Red), considered a significant color break in its dark red flowers and stems and gray-green leaves. Tulipa ‘Flaming Spring Green’ or  ‘Jan Reus’ would be good tulips for ‘Hordival’.


Ephemeral Tip

Muscari armeniacum
Muscari armeniacum

When growing bulbs in the garden, it’s natural to want to cut those beautiful spring ephemerals to bring them inside.  There are tricks as to when is the best time to cut them to help ensure maximum amount of pleasure from these blooms.  For Scilla siberica it is recommended to cut them when the flowers have just started to open to prolong vase time, which can be up to 7-10 days.  Muscari armeniacum is best to cut just as the flower florets have started to open, starting at the bottom, and giving them an indoor life in a vase for up to 4 days or more.  Always remember the small task of making a fresh cut at the bottom with floral scissors or sharp knife while  changing the water daily will give further life to your cut flowers.     -J