New plant introductions are not always improvements over their predecessors. With so many excellent bleeding hearts, could there be room for another? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’ (USDA Hardiness Zones 5–9) sports perfect, Rubenesque hearts of rich, rosy pink carried in showy clusters 8 to 12 inches above tight rosettes of tidy, parsleylike blue-green foliage.
An extraordinary selection, ‘King of Hearts’ was produced by the late Marion Ownbey of Pullman, Washington, from crosses involving three parents. The native eastern bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia, Zones 3–8) donates the extended bloom period, while the rounded, full-bodied, humpbacked lobes of the heart come from the Japanese species Dicentra peregrina (Zones 5–7). The rich color and tight flower clusters come from the western native Dicentra formosa (Zones 4–8).
In my garden, I’ve combined ‘King of Hearts’ with black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Zones 6–11), chartreuse-leaved golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Zones 4–8), and small- to medium-size hostas. For interest during the bleeding heart’s downtime, I like to plant pink and white rain lilies (Zephyranthes ‘Big Dude’, Zones 7–10), which repeat the flower color.
Similar to other bleeding hearts, ‘King of Hearts’ needs humus-rich, slightly acidic, sandy to loamy soil; if the soil dries, flowering will wane. For the best flowering, plant it in full sun to partial shade. Unlike our native bleeding hearts, ‘King of Hearts’ is intolerant of heat. In the warmth and humidity of a Virginia summer, plants enter semidormancy but resume flowering when the temperatures cool in autumn. This cultivar performs better where nights are cool and humidity is low. Its short, creeping rhizomes quickly form dense clumps with a dozen or more eyes. ‘King of Hearts’ dislikes competition, so place it near the front of the border or along a path where it will not be crowded.