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“Old Fashioned” plants appeal to modern tastes

What once was old is new again. That’s a saying that can certainly be applied to the world of plants. Quite often a specific plant becomes almost universally popular. As soon as it can be seen in almost every garden, there’s a backlash and the once-popular plant drops out of the Top Forty, so to speak.


But then, a new generation of gardeners and landscapers rediscover the plant and it enjoys a resurgence of popularity.


Just such a plant is Dicentra spectabilis, also known as Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart.


In case you haven’t seen it recently, here’s a reminder. It is named for the dangling, pink and white, heart-shaped blooms that burst forth in a profusion in spring, dying back somewhat in the heat of mid summer, although the blooms last longer in locations where there is ample shade.


This is a hardy little guy, tolerating the cold as well as the sun, topping out at no more than two feet tall with attractive grey-green foliage. If you plant it in shady areas, it does well alongside hostas and ferns. Bleeding Heart is one “Old Fashioned” plant that deserves its modern day revival.


And now to a couple more questions from readers. My wife Cheryl fielded the first one about plants that attract birds.


QUESTION: “The hot, dry summers where we live make it a challenge for me to decide what to plant. We have a few crape myrtles, and Japanese boxwoods that line our privacy fence. Dull, eh? I enjoy the birds and would love to establish a sanctuary in the corner of our back yard. The clay soil and sun are forces to contend with. Any suggestions for creating something as an attractive haven for the birds?” – Kim Renee Keck


ANSWER: Most birds are going to be attracted to plants that produce food and berries over winter. These include: DogwoodsRosa rugosasServiceberryViburnums and ornamental grasses.


Of course, raspberry and blackberry plants fruit during the summer and birds love them. Hummingbirds are attracted to brightly colored flowering plants such as the crape myrtlesbuddleiasclethraherbs (sage, oregano, basil, thyme) and geraniums. Adding a bird feeder with tasty seed blends is always a welcome sight during winter and bird houses are not only visually attractive, but tell the birds to come in and stay awhile. I hope this gives you a few ideas.


QUESTION: “I bought some royal ferns last year, but wasn't aware at that time that they need acid soil. Even though they were planted in shade and kept very moist, they didn't make it (but I am sure that is because I have the wrong soil type). I was wondering if there are any ferns that do well in somewhat alkaline soil?” – Jennifer Bonnett


ANSWER: Most all ferns will prefer soils with a high organic content. You may want to dig an area out and fill it back with only aged compost, aged manure or other organic matter in which to plant the ferns and then top with mulch. They need shaded areas that have drained soil. It is possible that the moisture didn't drain properly and the fern rhizomes rotted. Check the ferns regularly. You only want the soil to be cool and moist, but not damp or wet.


QUESTION: “I have double mock bushes that have not blossomed in five years… never, for that matter. Any suggestions?” – Debbie Andrews


ANSWER: I can think of a couple of things to check on. The doubles typically need to be in total full sun and they do seem to do better in more of a poor soil. Remember that the use of too much fertilizer will encourage leaf growth, but not flowers. You might want to cut out the old growth and any dead canes to get more sunlight into the center of the plants.