Campanulas, or bellflowers, were among the lovely old-fashioned flowers that my grandmother grew in her back yard. Some of hers that I transplanted still grow in my yard, a beautiful white variety, name unknown. While these flowers can be purchased at a nursery or garden center, with a little care Campanulas can be started from seed. They’re certainly worth the effort, given the elegance and charm that Campanulas possess.
The seeds are small and require some light to signal germination, so be sure to press them lightly into the soil without burying them. The most reliable method is direct-seeding outdoors, which should be done in late spring or early summer, after the last frost date. Perennial species can be sown late in the summer, allowing them to establish before winter for earliest bloom the next year.
Campanulas can also be started indoors in February or March under strong grow-lights. Sow on sterile seed-starting mix. A light sprinkling of cinnamon after sowing helps prevent damping-off disease. Place on an electric heat mat to speed germination, and water from the bottom to discourage mold. Transplant after the last frost date.
Once established in the garden, Campanulas will often re-seed themselves. Annual types such as the British Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia, also known as the Bluebell of Scotland) and biennial varieties such as Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium) generally produce an abundance of seeds. Mulch lightly or not at all around the plants to allow seeds to grow naturally, or collect seeds in a paper bag as the seed heads dry after flowering. Perennials, too, will produce a fair amount of seed. Mulching under perennial species will help prevent overcrowding.
The only downside to Campanulas is the short flowering season. Once the flowers fade, the plant itself may start to look rank. Plan to have some quick-growing old-fashioned annuals coming up just as the bellflowers finish. Cosmos are a good companion.
Here are some Campanula species to consider:
Campanula lusitanica: A dwarf perennial species with sky-blue flowers, excellent for the rockery. The fine foliage is excellent even before the flowers appear.
Campanula cashmeriana: A compact, trailing perennial species from Afghanistan. The foliage is excellent and remains good even when the plant is finished flowering.
Campanula rotundifolia: British Harebells are a much-loved annual. Growing to a height of one or two feet, they fit well in the front of the border, and are also useful in the rockery. The flowers are a fine sky blue.
Campanula medium: This is the old-fashioned Canterbury Bells, with charming flowers in blue, pink, and white. It is a hardy biennial that grows to four feet in height, and looks very well in cottage gardens or at the back of the border.
Campanula pyramidalis: This tall perennial is often called Steeple Bells. Growing up to six feet high, it works well in the back of the border. Its flowers are smaller than the Canterbury bells, and form a tall, narrow cone of blue or white. The flowers are generally blue or white.
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