BY LEE REICH, Associated Press
Cupid has shot his arrows, but love lasts all year. To keep the Valentine's Day feeling alive in your garden all spring and summer, consider these love-themed plants:
Our first stop is love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), a short-lived annual that must be sown more than once to have flowers through the summer. It comes back every year, from seeds it self-sows. The pale, blue flowers, cheery and hopeful, are surrounded by frilly leaves that become puffy fruits retaining some of that frill.
Bolster the charm needed for love's beginnings with love grass (Eragrostis spp.). The plant is easy to grow and tolerates periodically dry soil. Amethyst flowers cap the stalks in midsummer.
Even easier to grow is love apple, better known as the tomato. Sow these seeds indoors 6 weeks before the date of the average last killing frost of spring in your area, which you can find out from your county Cooperative Extension office.
Let's move on to the pink flowers of kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Polygonum orientale). At first blush, this plant can be a bit frightening because it looks like a familiar weed, smartweed, which spreads far and wide. Actually, it looks like smartweed on steroids, because kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate can grow 8 feet high. But it is better behaved than its weedy lookalike, self-seeds with discretion and, with much larger flowers held up higher, is prettier.
Now we're at love-in-a-puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum), more substantial yet fast-growing and potentially invasive. Despite tendrils, this vine might need help growing upward. The small flowers are followed by showy, pale red, inflated fruits. No need to blare out love at this point; you must open the fruits to see that each seed has a heart etched into its surface.
UPS AND DOWNS
Love-in-idleness (Viola tricolor) is the flower that Shakespeare's Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" recounted was "before milk-white, now purple with love's wound." Oberon went on to use this small, wild pansy as the aphrodisiac for a midsummer night's mischief.
Broken hearts might turn to love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), which drips globs of tiny red flowers from the ends of its stems. Fortunately, it's not a perennial.
On a happier note, try hearts entangled (Ceropegia woodii), notable not for its flowers but for its lovely, heart-shaped leaves, which are coated with silver and strung along thin, creeping stems. The plant is a succulent that can weather all sorts of conditions if provided constant warmth.
Finally, we come to love-tree (Cercis siliquastrum), the most substantial plant on this romantic ramble. Our native redbud tree is a close relative, similar in leaf and flower, to this native of southern Europe and western Asia. Leaves of love-tree are also heart-shaped and each spring, as if reaffirming love, the branches are smothered in flowers. The small flowers are rose-colored, not red-hot but with enough blue to remind us of that love-in-a-mist at the beginning of the path.
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Banner image: In this undated photo, not for Valentine’s day, but for summer, is this plant of romance, eight feet high and named “kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate;” best planted near a garden gate, as was this plant in New Paltz, N.Y. (Lee Reich via AP)