Saturday 22 October 2016

Billowing bellflowers lend an airy elegance

Gerry Daly

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

Pretty: The elegant bellflower is in flower now
Pretty: The elegant bellflower is in flower now

One of the prettiest garden flowers is the peach-leaved bellflower and it is in flower now. The plant carries large open, bell-shaped flowers on tall slender flower stems. It has been grown in cottage-style gardens for generations as it is easy to propagate by diving the plants. It spends most of the year as a low plant about ten centimetres high, made up of tufts of narrow evergreen leaves. The narrowness of the leaves, much longer than wide, is reminiscent of the foliage of a peach tree, hence the common name.

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When the flowers have faded, the flower stems can be cut away close to the tuft of leaves. The only slight drawback of this flower is a tendency for its flower stems to flop over to one side under the battering of strong winds. The flowers continue to open, and still looks well, though not by any means as elegant as it does when not blown to one side. It should be planted with the benefit of some shelter, and in a bright sunny spot to flower at its beautiful best.

Another bellflower, much more robust, is the globe bellflower which has rounded heads of narrow inky dark blue bells, held about knee-high, only half the height of the peach-leaved bellflower, but still held well clear of bushy ground-level foliage. It spreads to make a fine clump after a few years. Also low-growing but much lighter in structure, Campanula takesimana has large nodding bells of ivory-white and internal spotting of dark crimson. The bells are carried on arching stems over a long period in mid-summer.

Much bigger, the milky bellflower grows to over head-height and more than two metres across, topped with large, airy, flower-heads of small bells. The species is pale milky blue and the lovely pale lavender of the variety 'Loddon Anna' is very popular too. Although this is a big plant, it is easy to grow and does not spread rapidly, remaining as a neat clump. It grows up each year from ground level.

Another tall bellflower, Campanula latifolia, has more spike-shaped flower heads than the rounded flowers of the milky bellflower. It looks a bit like a blue foxglove flower, about the same height and with slender flower spikes and drooping bell-flowers. This bellflower is ideal for semi-wild places at the edge of rural garden. It is a vigorous plant well able to stand a little weed competition and may even self-sow.

While easy to grow in any ordinary soil, the bellflowers are seen at their best on neutral to limy soil, well drained but not too dry. Any of these lovely bellflowers brings a wonderful billowing touch to a summer border.

Sunday Independent

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