Friday, May 13, 2011

Bellflowers of all Shapes & Sizes

I love the color blue and I love bell shaped flowers so the fact that I love bluebells will come as no surprise (read my 'Ramblings of a Romantic Gardener').
The perennial Serbian bellflower loves to cascade over large boulders and
rock walls.

My love affair doesn’t need to end so early in the season however. Did you know that there are many species, varieties and colors of the perennial bellflowers (Campanula) which range from just a few inches tall to over 5’ and offer blooms from May to September?
The dainty 'Fairy thimbles' is
reminiscent of the wildflower form

The babies of the bellflower world are at home in the rockery. Carpathian harebell (Campanula carpatica) is one of the most popular with ‘Blue clips’ and ‘White clips’ being favorite varieties. These bear large cup-shaped flowers from June-September and although they stay under 1’ tall they spread  to a tidy 2’ mound. Dead heading is a good idea if your back can handle it but otherwise they just ask for water and sunshine.

Fairy thimbles (Campanula cochlearifolia) is even daintier reaching just 3” high and being smothered in petite pendant bells in blue or white. It fills in gaps around boulders beautifully without ever being invasive.

Don’t even ask me to spell the next one; we’ll just call it Serbian bellflower! (OK for the botanists amongst you the ‘proper’ name is Campanula poscharskyana – I warned you.) This is the classic weed smothering, self seeding, nook and cranny filling bellflower. Some call it invasive but I just find it charming as it keeps on creeping but stays about 6” tall. When it eventually finishes blooming (I’m too lazy to dead head it) I just tug gently at the flowering stems and they come away cleanly leaving nice trim mounding plants. ‘Blue waterfall’ is a well known variety and as the name suggests it is fabulous when allowed to drape over rock walls and boulders.  I planted mine underneath the burgundy leaved ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple where it received morning sun.

Just plain funky! 'Pink Octopus' bellflower.
Photo credit; Heronswood nursery.

Then there are the weird ones which are neither bell shaped nor blue; ‘Pink Octopus’ is one example of a new hybrid which looks like waving tentacles. At 10-15” tall this is for the front of the border but is an upright grower rather than a spreader. It will certainly pique the curiosity of your garden-savvy neighbors.

Clustered bellflower forms a 
tidy clump in the perennial
For the middle of the border try clustered bellflower (Campanula glomerata) which grows spheres of deep blue bell shaped flowers on its 2’ tall, stout stems. The best known variety is the violet-blue ‘Superba’.

A little taller at 2-3' is the peach-leafed bellflower (Campanula persicifolia). To me these are an essential part of any English garden in both the periwinkle blue and pure white forms. If you snip off the dead flower directly behind each bloom (rather than the entire flowering stem) another flower will appear from that node in just a week or so. It’s a messy, rather sticky job but worth it for the extra flowers. I used to keep mine blooming until September doing this. Place them near a dark leaved bugbane (Cimifuga syn. Actaea) to add depth and enhance the blue tones.

'Kent belle' has exceptionally large blooms

Kent belle’ is a newer hybrid from England and is known for its trusses of 2” long dangling blue flowers all summer long. Try it with variegated iris (Iris pallida ‘Alba-variegata’) which has rich blue flowers and variegated blue-green and white foliage or the metallic blue sea holly (Eryngium) for a ‘rhapsody in blue’ moment in the garden. 2’ tall.

Towards the back of the border the giant bellflower (Campanula latifolia) reaches 5’ in good soil yet stays remarkably erect even after heavy rain. The flowers on this variety are shaped like long tubular bells which point downwards along the stem. The spires of white or blue flowers seem to last all summer and like all taller varieties make excellent cut flowers. I could never be bothered to dead head these and they still bloomed forever!

One for the back of the border, 
'Loddon Anna' is a soft pink variety of 
milky bellflower.

Finally milky bellflower (Campanula lactiflora) is another taller growing variety whose open flowers are borne in branching heads. ‘Loddon Anna’ (pink) is popular as is ‘Pritchard’s variety’ (lavender blue).

Of course there are many more I could mention and we all have our favorites, often steeped in nostalgia. (Didn’t your grandma have one or more of these?) Seek these out at your local nursery or order online from perennial specialists and see which one you like best.

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