A Ring Of Bells by Martin Blow
Bellflowers, known properly as Campanulas, are an amazingly varied family of plants. Nearly all have bell-shaped flowers, but they come in all sizes of plants from creeping carpeters for the rockery to stately giants for the back of the border. Some are woody-based clump-formers others are frankly invasive thugs, but with careful choice there’s a bellflower for most gardens.
All enjoy a sunny or partially shaded spot but on the whole, they don’t like wet soils so improve drainage with plenty of compost and grit in claggy soils. Nearly all will rebloom if the first crop of flower stems are removed as soon as the flowers are finished.
The Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana) is well known for clothing rockeries and even drystone walls with its small leaves and violet-blue flowers. This one is a spreader and should be avoided in the flower border. The tussock bellflower (C.carpatica) is a better choice for the rockery or front of the border as it forms low mounds and has upward facing bells in shades of blue and also white and is better behaved.
One of the best varieties for the middle of the border is Campanula “Sarastro”, a fairly recent introduction that has masses of dangling purple bells on 2ft / 60cm tall stems. We grow this one on a dry sandy bank, but it also tolerates a little shade. Similar, but more dainty, is “Kent Belle”. Both look as good in bud as they do in flower. Another similar variety “Crystal” has palest purple flowers opening from translucent purple buds looking much like Lalique glass – very beautiful.
Another winning, but spreading variety is “Elizabeth” with taller, branching stems festooned with white bells heavily spotted and marked in soft pink. Campanula punctata, the spotted harebell, is similar but this species spreads more freely and isn’t suitable for small spaces. We love the variety “Wedding Bells” which has creamy white, double “hose-in-hose” bells spotted with pale pink.
The peach-leaved bellflower (C. persicifolia) spreads reasonably quickly to form large carpets of long, narrow leaves and bears 2-3ft / 60-90cm tall spires of white or blue flowers, particularly beautiful in the variety “Chettle Charm” where the white flower petals are edged in the palest blue.
Less spreading, but of similar height are the broadleaved bellflower (C. latiflora) and the Olympic bellflower (C. latiloba). These are upright plants with large bells in blues, pinks, and whites. We particularly like the pale violet of “Hidcote Amethyst”.
Taller, more bushy and with smaller but more numerous flowers is the milky bellflower (C.lactiflora). When grown from seed the flowers are in a range of pale colours including blue, white and pink but there are stronger colours available. “Pritchard’s Blue” is a good deep blue and “Loddon Anna” is bluish pink.
The giant of bellflowers is Campanula pyramidalis which grows to 5ft / 150cm tall but is not long-lived and treated as a biennial.
Ones to avoid: C.rapunculoides (rampant spreader) and C.trachelium (“Bats in the Belfry”) which is a prolific seeder, but there’s plenty of others to choose that will definitely ring your bell!
Janet & I run a small nursery called Special Perennials, our website is www.specialperennials.com.
We also organise Plant Hunters’ Fairs, specialist plant fairs at wonderful locations throughout the season. Some of our planned plant fairs have had to be cancelled so please check www.planthuntersfairs.co.uk for up to date information.