Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Bellflower

by Susan Littlefield


There is enough diversity in the bellflower or Campanula clan to ring just about any gardener's chimes. With bell-shaped, tubular or star-shaped flowers in shades of blue, white, pink and red, they have growth habits that range from low and creeping to tall and upright. Most of the garden-worthy choices are perennials, although there are some annuals and a biennial in the genus. And all are beautiful, even the few that are such vigorous spreaders and seeders that you may need to think twice about including them in your garden.

About This Plant

Bellflowers are hardy plants, with most types growing in Zones 4 to 8, even to zone 3 with reliable snow cover to provide insulation, but they'll sulk in the heat of the Deep South or Southwest. Peak bloom is in early to midsummer for most, but with deadheading you may get sporadic bloom throughout the summer and a second flush of flowers in fall. Bellflowers look lovely in many garden settings; their showy flowers and informal habit are the perfect fit in a cottage garden.

Special Features

Bellflowers fall into two categories, tall, upright growers that are good choices for a border or for cutting, and low growers that work well for edging or in rock gardens.

One of the most popular uprights is peachleaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia). Tall, 15 to 30 inch spikes of 1-1 ½ inch, broadly bell-shaped flowers in shades of blue, pink, white and purple rise in early summer from basal clumps of leaves. Clustered bellflower (C. glomerata) produces upwards facing heads of blossoms in purple or white in early summer on sturdy 18 inch stems. Milky bellflower (C. lactiflora), 3 to 5 feet tall, and great bellflower (C. latifolia), 4 to 5 feet tall, also both have upward-facing flowers.

Other upright growers are distinguished by their large, nodding blossoms. Spotted bellflower (C. punctata) gets about 2 feet tall and bears pink, speckled, dangling flowers from midsummer to fall. 'Cherry Bells' is a popular cultivar. The hybrid 'Sarastro' has large, deep-purple, nodding bells on a 2 ½ to 3 foot tall plant.

The low spreading bellflowers look nice trailing over the tops and between the stones of a dry rock wall. In early summer, Serbian Bellflower (C. poscharskyana) spreads a wave of blue, 1-1 ½", star-shaped flowers. Adriatic bellflower (C. garganica) and Dalmatian bellflower (C. portenschlagiana) are similar. For edging along a path, the low growing Carpathian harebell (C. carpatica) is perfect. The cultivar 'Blue Clips' bears bright blue bells on 8-12" high plants over most of the summer. Even more floriferous is the sterile hybrid 'Samantha', which is covered in violet-blue, bowl-shaped blossoms above a 6" high clump of leaves.

The biennial Canterbury bells (C. medium) is an old fashioned favorite, growing 12 to 30 inches tall and sporting boxy, bell-shaped flowers in shades of lilac, blue, pink and white. Start these plants from seed in midsummer for bloom the following year.
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