The romance garden

If I had the right spot, I might make a romance bed, pun intended, somewhere in the garden: a sprinkling of love-in-a-mist and cupid's dart, a few naked ladies and maybe a chaste tree smack in the middle for a touch of irony. Many people enjoy designing gardens with a theme. With Valentine's Day approaching, it seems appropriate to examine some possibilities for a romance-themed garden.

Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Polygonum orientale) is a fast-growing annual that can reach as tall as 7 feet, with long, sturdy stems that bear pendulous floral sprays of bright pink. Thomas Jefferson seeded his Monticello garden with this graceful flower, also known as Prince's feather, which would most certainly lure a smitten passerby to the fence. Seeds require a cold period for germination. Sow outdoors in late winter in a sunny location or sow seed indoors, water, then refrigerate for 5 weeks before germinating. Blooms in late summer.

Cupid's dart (Catananche caerulea) has dainty, light-blue flowers with a dark purple center. It is a free-flowering, short-lived perennial that thrives in well-drained soil in full sun. It has clumps of grass-like, gray-green foliage and is excellent for dried arrangements. Drought tolerant. Grows 18–24 inches.

Heart's-a-bustin' (Euonymus americanus) makes a good permanent feature for a natural area. A sparse, otherwise unremarkable shrub with inconspicuous spring flowers, it becomes a siren in autumn. The dull-red, warty seed capsules burst open to release shiny, strawberry-red berries that dangle from the pods. This native shrub grows 6 to 8 feet in partial shade to full sun. If located in moist shade, a suitable perennial to plant beneath is bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis). Delicate, locket-shaped, pink flowers bloom along tender, arching stems in early spring. White-flowering varieties are also available. Grows 12–24 inches.

Other enticing choices include love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), love-in-a-puff vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), naked ladies (common name for Amaryllis belladonna, Lycoris squamigera and Lycoris radiata) and passionflower vine (Passiflora spp.) Don't overlook plants with heart-shaped leaves. Try redbud trees (Cercis canadensis), caladiums and elephant ears.

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