As February rolls round, the days start to get just that little bit lighter, and with Valentine’s Day just a few weeks away, it feels like love is definitely in the air.
Thinking about how intertwined flowers are as a symbol of romance, we couldn't help but be struck by how many common names for plants take their cue from love, that many-splendoured thing, or from hearts.
Of course, the Victorians had an elaborate language of flowers, and the blooms given to the object of your affections - or even the motifs worked into jewellery, paintings, or embroidery - could be simply simmering with hidden meanings.
Combine several blooms into a posy, and things could get even more steamy. Blush roses (blossoming love) combined with cornflower (hope in love) and peony (bashfulness) could be given as a declaration of love with a hope that it could grow, but held back by shyness. Now there’s an invitation to take the initiative, if ever we saw one!
But we’re thinking instead of the common names we use for plants which are inspired by love, or by hearts. Here are our favourites.
A cottage garden favourite, Bleeding Heart (top images) is the common name for Dicentra Spectabilis, and it’s easy to see why. The delicate heart-shaped flowers are borne on gracefully arching stems, each with a tiny ‘drop’ hanging below. It’s early flowering (April-May), and also as a native of the margins of woodland it tolerates shade well. This makes it a handy plant to have in your garden, useful for gloomy corners and also for making one of the earliest splashes of colour in the garden. It’s usually pink and white, but all-white and red-and-white varieties are available if pink’s not your thing. Dainty and delicate, this cottage garden favourite is a very elegant addition to your garden, and again, it looks stunning as a cut flower.
Love-in-a-Mist is the common name of Nigella Damascene, that cottage garden favourite. It’s easy to grow, freely self-seeding, and flowers for weeks and weeks. The flowers seem to float on clouds of feathery green leaves, giving it a dreamy romantic look, and it’s a great choice for pollinators. And when the flowers are finished, they leave behind decorative seed pods which are perfect for arranging and for crafts. Cultivars are available in white, pinks, mauves and blues, so Love-in-a-Mist is a really great choice for any garden.
Kiss me over the Garden Gate
This common name for Persicaria Orientalis is just a delight! It’s an annual with real impact, easily growing to 1.5m or higher, with abundant flowers spikes in vivid dark pink. It’s handy for creating privacy in a garden, and it’s this potential for screening which perhaps gives it its rather cheeky common name. It can be tricky to grow from seed, as it needs a period of cold (below 5 degrees C) to trigger germination. It’s probably best to simply scatter seed in the garden and let nature do the hard work. Once it’s in your garden though, it self seeds freely, so it will always come back. It makes a very striking cut flower.
String of Hearts
From the classic to the super-trendy: String of Hearts is the common name of Ceropegia Woodii, a real Instagram favourite. This coveted succulent is a very fast grower, with trailing stems which easily reach a length of several metres. It adds real impact to a home when cascading from a hanging pot or shelf, giving a luscious leafy rainforest feel. It’s quite undemanding and given a little TLC it can thrive in a small pot, growing well in most light or soil conditions. But it’s the adorable heart-shaped leaves which have made it such a social media superstar.
Love Lies Bleeding
This is the slightly sinister common name of Amaranthus Caudatus. It’s another plant that’s easy to grow, and it’s quite spectacular, growing up to 1.5m high. In late summer and autumn the tiny flowers form dramatic tassle-like panicles in red or purple, which can grow up to 60cm. It makes a real statement in the garden! Butterflies and bees adore its thousands of flowers, and it’s a great cut flower, with excellent vase life. Imagine these crimson tassels combined with late-summer flowers like dahlias or sunflowers – not for the faint-hearted, but what a showstopper!
This is where things get a little… earthy. Lad’s Love is one of the many common names for Artemisia Abrotanum, which has been used for centuries for everything from protecting clothes from moths to treating dandruff. but it’s as a supposed aphrodisiac which earns it many of its common names – Maid’s Ruin being another. Young men would wear a sprig in their buttonhole or include it in a posy to send a message to the object of their affection. Aphrodisiac or not, it certainly has an invigorating lemony scent. It’s a nice addition to a herb garden for herbal teas, or for growing in a fruit orchard, where the scented foliage helps repel insect pests.
Why not bring a little love to your garden this spring?