Thinking warmer thoughts

Take heart, housebound January gardener. The

20-degree mornings and warnings of impending ice storms will be over soon.

One warm February afternoon any day now we will shed our jackets and browse around in our gardens looking for signs of spring.

It's still early for the bleeding hearts, members of the Dicentra family, to emerge and that's too bad. The early foliage on this little ephemeral is almost as enchanting as the flowers. The leaves are waxy and vulnerable-looking in the beginning, but it doesn't take long for the leaves to spread out into a ferny-green, knee-high canopy.

The flowers look like the artistic efforts of fourth-grade girls around Valentine's Day. They droop down from the stems and are perfectly formed pink hearts with what appears to be drops of blood dangling from the tips. They are obviously as fragile as they appear, since they don't last very long.

Bleeding heart is a woodland plant and it likes evenly moist, rich soil in partial-to-full shade when it is breaking dormancy. They are perfectly adapted to an environment under deciduous trees. They like sun in the spring before the trees leaf out. They don't mind that later in the summer they will encounter full shade and dry soil, because they will be dormant or have gone off someplace on vacation.

They are perfect companions for ferns, hostas and daffodils because they all appear about the same time of year. If I were as organized as I wish I were, I would have planted some pink daffodils in the area around the bleeding heart and its friends. But who can think to do that when it is daffodil planting time and the bleeding heart - stems and all - has totally disappeared?

All the Dicentras have large, brittle roots or tuberous rhizomes, so they must be transplanted with care once they have gone dormant. Dutchman's Breeches is a Dicentra and shares bleeding heart's growth habits, but its intricately formed little flowers look like pantaloons. What a clever group they are.

We also call turk's cap, in the Malvaviscus family, a bleeding heart. Turk's cap is a somewhat shrubby plant that will elbow its neighbors out of the way in one season. The blooms on this plant are much loved by hummingbirds, who will spend most of their day among the flaming red, twirled flowers with the prominent stamens.

If you buy a bleeding heart in bloom at the nursery (and who can resist them), tend it lovingly in its pot until it goes dormant and then plant it out carefully where you want it.

Winder resident Dora Fleming is a Georgia master gardener. E-mail her at dfleming1531@adelphia.net.