25 March 2007
Favourite perennials 2: The silent bells of the garden
The first summer we were here at our new home, I dragged home a bellflower from some nursery. It was unnamed and not in flower—I don’t know what prompted me to purchase it. Perhaps I picked it up at a plant sale in someone’s yard. I planted it out front by the door, along with a host of other things, and promptly forgot about it in the joy of watching a host of new-to-us plants parade through bloom.
Sometime in midsummer, this plant erupted into bloom, with huge purple bells. It was a double-flowered cup-and-saucer Canterbury bell, we know now, but at the time, we were simply awestruck. My longsuffering spouse declared it the most wonderful flower he’d ever seen. He still talks about that plant, because although we’ve had many different bellflowers since then, including Canterbury bells, we’ve never had another cup-and-saucer one. That’s okay though—our love affair with bellflowers had begun.
One of the reasons we love bellflowers is because they are reliable. I have killed many plants over my years as a gardener, and will doubtless continue to do so as long as I’m setting trowel to soil. My philosophy about plants that succumb is that they are simply making room for other plants to take their place. I haven’t killed a lot of bellflowers however, because they’re pretty tough. And there’s one for just about every site, from front of the border groundcovers to mid border beauties to tall performers for the back of the border.
Bellflowers come in shades of blue, violet, purple, and rose, as well as in pure shining white, so they mix well in most colour schemes using cool or pastel colours. They’re mostly pretty hardy; give them compost-rich, decently drained soil and a sunny spot, and they’ll do as well for you as they do for me. I’ve never had to stake any of them, although you may want to stake peachleafed if your site is very windy.
Among my favourites:
C. persicifolia: The peachleafed bellflower is definitely an easy plant to grow, and though it selfseeds, it does so very politely. It grows quite tall in our garden, to 3 feet or more, and the flowers are quite showy and longlasting. My favourite is ‘Chettle Charm’, (above) white edged in cool lavender-blue.
C. glomerata: The clustered bellflower does as its name suggests, clumping its blooms togetherat the end of stems. Ours is a deep purple variety, but white is also available.
C. Kent Belle: This is a showy bellflower, with really shiny, deep purple bells that flare sharply outward. It’s a sterile cultivar, but when happy will spread gradually by rhizomes. (photo at beginning of this entry)
C. medium: Canterbury bells are one of the few campanula that are biennial. Not being inclined to grow perennials from seed at present, I simply buy a few now and then; sometimes they selfseed, sometimes they don’t.
C. punctata ‘Cherry Bells’: For something different, try this bellflower, which has pretty pink flowers, long tubular bells flared at the end. It spreads by rhizome or by seeds, but if it’s invasive we haven’t had any trouble with it.
C. carpatica: You’ll see this around many places labeled as the ‘Clips’ series, with white, blue, deep blue and probably a couple of other variations available. Nice groundcover for the front of the border or cascading out of a rock garden.
C. cochlearifolia: Sometimes called ‘Fairy Thimbles’—how charming is that?—this floriferous groundcover type is totally delightful when it starts to flower. ‘Bavaria Blue’ (above) is easy to find.
Campanula garganica 'Dickson's Gold': I only planted this low-growing bellflower for the first time last year, besotted as I am by plants with gold foliage and blue flowers. (For those puzzled by this colour love, I’m an alumnus of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College , which has blue and gold as its colours. ) I was a bit worried about its hardiness so planted it in the protection of the front bed, which has excellent drainage as well as shelter from many of our hateful winter winds. We’ll see how it does.