Campanula – bell-like flowers signifying gratitude, faith and constancy

Campanulas are without doubt one of the most charming of cottage garden plants.  The taller species typically grown in gardens provide heads of loose open bell-like flowers in blue, white, purple and sometimes pink.  Some however have a low creeping habit and are very at home around the edge of a patio or tumbling over stones in a rockery.

There are over 500 species in the genera Campanula¹ and so it is going to be difficult to do the genus justice.  I will concentrate here on those that we grow in the gardens at Waverley or have used as cut flowers over the years (C. medium, C. persicifolia, C. latifolia, C. glomerata, C. pyramidalis and C. portenschlagiana).

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Campanula medium (Photo credit:  Daderot [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons)
Origin

Campanulas mainly come from the temperate and sub-tropical regions of the northern hemisphere.  Many are native to Europe originating in the Mediterranean and eastwards to the Caucasus mountains.   Understanding where these plants come from and the conditions they enjoy in the wild, is critical to providing them with the conditions in which they will thrive in your own garden.

Cultivation

Some species of Campanula are annuals, whilst others are biennials or perennials.  Although species like C. medium may be perennial in some areas we tend to grow them as biennials so that we get fresh vigorous flowering plants each year.

Sowing from seed is very straight forward.  The seeds are very small and typically we would sow thinly onto the surface of moist compost in the spring and then cover the tray with cling film until the seeds germinate.  I usually remove the cling film as soon as the green shoots emerge to avoid any danger of damping off.  Try to avoid watering from the top as the seeds will easily be washed into the corner of your tray.

Once the seedlings have their first true leaves they can be pricked out into larger trays or modules and grown on.  They seem to transplant very successfully.  As we grow species like C. medium as biennials we prick them out into large modules where they stay until mid-September.  At this point the established plants are very easy to set out in groups around the garden where they over winter and flower in early summer.

The hardy perennial species eg. C. persicifolia are perhaps easier to propagate by division every few years.  I simply dig up a clump, separate out the new rosettes and pot them up into individual 9cm pots filled with a mix of perlite and multi-purpose compost.

All of our Campanulas do well throughout the garden when planted in full sun or partial shade.  As tall plants C. medium look very effective peeking out behind our low formal Lonicera nitida hedges and in front of the more informal woodland edge of the garden boundary .  Many writers recommend that they prefer a moist but well drained soil.

Pest and diseases

I have to say that we find all our Campanulas to be pretty resilient to pest and diseases.  It is reported that they are susceptible to slugs and snails but we have very little problem (perhaps they are attracted away by other more tasty morsels!).

It is also reported that they are prone to powdery mildew and rust diseases but again we have had little problem with these diseases on our plants.  In order to see the flowers at their best we do space the plants well apart and this may well allow plenty of air to circulate between them thus keeping these diseases at bay.

Flower initiation

Armitage and Laushman² report that Campanulas do not seem to need a period of cold treatment to start producing rosette leaves but do need a period of cold to initiate flowering.  C. persicifolia, for example, requires 12 weeks at or below 4°C to initiate flowering.  Treating sown plants as biennials seems to sit well with these findings.  Our spring sown plants of C. medium do not seem to flower in the year that they are sow.  However, planted out in mid-September and allowed to over winter in the cold flower beds they produce robust, upright, tall plants that flower over a long period.

DSCF2440 C. persicifolia
Campanula persicifolia

Armitage and Laushman also indicate that C. persicifolia is day neutral which means it flowers under both short or long days once the cold treatment requirements have been satisfied.  For other Campanula species long days are required for flowering after vernalisation.  (see: How plants use day length to decide when to flower (Photoperiodism) for more background on this).

It would appear that the new Champion series of Campanula medium does not require cold treatment which means they can be grown more effectively in greenhouse conditions.  This helps enormously if you are growing purely to produce cut flowers and want a longer season of production.

Cutting and conditioning

It is certainly our experience that the tall varieties of Campanula all make excellent cut flowers.  The inflorescence opens from the bottom providing a long period of interest in the vase and in the garden.

Typically you would cut when the bottom one or two flowers have coloured and are open.  We use a standard conditioning approach of cutting the flowers directly into cool, clean water containing ‘flower food’ to keep the water fresh and minimise bacterial development.

The stems often produce sap when cut so it is wise to keep them in a separate bucket from other flowers, rinsing the cut stems every 20 minutes or so until the sap stops flowing.

C. medium, C. persicifolia, C. latifolia and C. pyramidalis all offer a light, airy and open effect which is ideal for natural, country style arrangements and bouquets.  C. glomerata is perhaps more structural, upright and dense in form but its strong purple shade works well with bold colours like oranges and scarlets.

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Relaxed country style wedding bouquets in pink, blue and white including the bell-like flowers of Campanula medium (flowers by Honey Pot Flowers)

Whereas many of the Campanulas we grow are upright and need some support to produce quality blooms we have seen beautiful trailing forms on our travels in Croatia and Montenegro this year growing in very dry, well drained, rocky conditions on walls and buildings.  It is often very difficult to get good trailing colour for use in flower arrangements and this growing approach is well worth considering.

Campanula in the wild
Campanula (species unknown) growing naturally on limestone walls near Perast, Montenegro (Oct 2018)

Campanula medium (Canterbury Bells)

Originating from southern Europe¹ these large robust plants grow to 2 feet to 2 feet 6 inches in height.  They have a long flowering season starting in June and continue through to August.  As the flowers open consecutively from the bottom to the top they provide a long period of interest and colour.  They are quite heavy plants and although they have robust stems they do tend to need some support to stop them looking untidy.

We grown these from seed each year and treat them as biennials.  The RHS considers them to have a hardiness rating of H4 (Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5)).

We have grown two forms:  the cup and saucer varieties which have big robust flowers on strong stems and also the singles (which do not have the saucers).  We do find these rather ‘chunky’ in nature and are not really delicate enough for use in bouquets and small arrangements.

The ‘Champion’ series, however, that you typically get from your floristry wholesaler are a very different cut flower and we have used these extensively over the years.  Grown as an annual they can be brought through to flowering in around 15 weeks.  They are available in a range of colours from blue through white and to pink.

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Campanula medium (Photo credit:  Daderot [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons)
Campanula persicifolia (the peach leaved campanula)

To my mind C. persicifolia is rather more attractive and delicate than C. medium.  This species is a perennial that is native to most of Europe and the Benelux countries eastwards towards Central and Southern Russia and North West Turkey³.  It seeds itself freely around our garden but is also easy to multiply by division (the latter technique particularly useful if you want to bulk up the delicate ‘alba’ form).

C. persicifolia has evergreen foliage and has been given the H7 hardiness rating by the RHS (Hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20)).  In nature it grows in meadows, open woods and on the edge of forests.

As with C. medium the inflorescence opens from the bottom to the top.  This give a long period of flowering in the garden border.  Flowering can be extended still further by dead heading.  In this case you are not removing the whole flower spike but removing the individual dead flowers before they set seed.  You will find new flowers develop at the base of each flower stem.

DSCF2484 C. persicifolia alba
Campanula persicifolia ‘alba’

Campanula pyramidalis (the Chimney Bell Flower)

When grown well C. pyramidalis can grow up to 2 metres in height producing tall spikes of pyramid shapes flowers that are excellent for large flower arrangements.  Flowering from May until July, it is a short-lived perennial that, like C. medium, is often grown as a biennial.  It is native to southern Europe and the western Balkans¹.

Campanula pyramidalis (photo credit:  Thompson & Morgan – live feed from https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/campanula-pyramidalis-mixed/8956TM )

Campanula glomerata (the clustered bellflower)

C. glomerata is a vigorous rhizomatous perennial that has a tendency to sucker.  The species is native to the North Temperate Zone of Eurasia, from Europe to Japan¹.  It grows to around 1-2 feet in height producing clusters of typically deep purple flowers on strong stems.  There is also a beautiful crisp white variety (see below).  The RHS website indicates that it is hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20) (RHS hardiness rating H7).

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Campanula glomerata (white)

Campanula latifolia (the giant bellflower)

Very much more delicate than C. glomerata or C. medium, C. latifolia is one of my favourite Campanulas in the garden.  It seeds freely and seems to come back without problems year after year in a rather inhospitable spot in the garden.  We tried to move some seedlings to what we considered to be rather better soil and they just did not ‘do’.  The answer I think is that that actually like poor dry soil.

C. latifolia is again native to Europe extending to western Asia as far east as Kashmir.

DSCF2492 C. latifolia
Campanula latifolia

Campanula portenschlagiana (the wall bellflower)

Very different in form from the others mentioned in this article is C. portenschlagiana.  This is a very robust, low growing creeping plant that in our garden grows in minimal soil around the base of the house and patio steps.   It was at the house well before we arrived 25 years ago and I am sure will still be about when we finally leave.  It produces masses of blue flowers throughout the summer.

It is an alpine plant and requires a very well drained area in full sun to thrive.  We have found that is does not compete well with plants like Saxifraga x urbium (London Pride) which can easily swap this Campanula if not kept in check.

Campanula portenschlagiana 1
Campanula portenschlagiana (Photo credit:  Ghislain118 (AD) http://www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons)
And finally some trivia …

Su Whale⁴ in her guide on cut flowers cites the following charming piece of flower trivia.  In Germany and in the Netherlands the Campanula flower is known as ‘Rapunzal Bellflower’ and supposedly was the inspiration behind Grimm’s fairy tale.

Further reading

¹  Wikipedia

² “Specialty Cut Flowers – the production of annuals, perennials, bulbs and woody plants for fresh and dried cut flowers” by Armitage and Laushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

³ “Perennial – Volume 2” by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix (ISBN 0-330-29275-7)

⁴ “Cut flowers – a practical guide to their selection and care” by Su Whale (ISBN 978-0-9568713-0-5)

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Tulip selections for 2019

Although it could be argued that the garden in November is winding down ready for winter it is in fact one of our busiest months for preparing for next seasons spring show.

We do have a lot of hardy perennial bulbs that return year after year but find that most of our tulips do not survive more than one season and do not flower well in their second year. 

Each year therefore we have great fun browsing the catalogues and selecting our colour combinations.  Our aim is to achieve a succession of flowering through the season and also have striking colour combinations at any moment in time.  It is not all about the tulips though and combining the tulips with wallflowers, alliums, violas, camassia and other spring blooms can create a much more interesting effect than tulips alone.

In 2018 the weather conditions were ‘challenging’ to say the least and this resulted in many of the tulips flowering at the same time and then only for a short period (see: https://honeypotflowers.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/tulips-2018-the-results-are-in/ ).  Hopefully this year will be more successful and we get an excellent show over a longer period. 

For 2019 we have selected and planted the following:


Flower Garden:  Tulips white ‘Maureen’ amongst Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, ‘Van Eijk’ and ‘Purple Blend’.

Tulip ‘Maureen’  Photo credit:  Live feed from http://www.dutchbulbs.co.uk
Tulip ‘Van Eijk’  Photo credit:  Live feed from http://www.dutchbulbs.co.uk
Parkers ‘Puple Blend’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.dutchbulbs.co.uk

Old Rose Garden:  Tulips Marilyn and Maytime amongst the multi-stemmed Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Narcissus ‘Thalia’   Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip Marilyn Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip ‘Maytime’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.gardenersworld.com

Kitchen patio:  Tulips ‘Best Seller’ in April followed by the later ‘Apricot Delight’ growing through Viola ‘Honey Bee’

Tulip ‘Bestseller’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.gardenersworld.com
Tulip ‘Apricot Delight’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.farmergracy.co.uk

Top tier of the front garden:  Tulip ‘White Triumphator’ and ‘China Town’

Tulip ‘China Town’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip ‘White triumphator’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.avonbulbs.co.uk

Back garden rose arch:  Tulip ‘Apledorn’ growing through orange ‘Fire King’ and deep ‘Blood Red’ wallflowers planted out earlier in mid-September.

Tulip ‘Apeldorn’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com

Large terracota pots:     Tulips ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Menton Exotic’ amongst Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ and Viola ‘Pineapple Crush’

Tulip ‘Menton Exotic’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip ‘Black Parrot’  Photo Credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com

Large green tubs:  Tulips ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Menton Exotic’ growing through Pansy ‘Matrix Sunrise’


Patio garden flower bed:  Tulips ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Ballerina’

Tulip ‘Ballerina’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.avonbulbs.co.uk
Tulip ‘Burgundy’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com

Large square grey tubs on the side patio:  Tulips ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Burgundy’ with Pansy ‘Matrix Sunrise’


Grey troughs:  Tulip ‘Slawa‘ and ‘Orange Dynasty


Tulip ‘Slawa’ Photo credit:  real-time link to  http://www.peternyssen.com

Old Peony Bed:  Tulip ‘City of Vancover‘ with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’
Tulip ‘City of Vancover’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.avonbulbs.co.uk

Rather pleasingly we have had some decent spells of dry weather this year allowing us to plant all the bulbs in good time (using our new Powerplanter gadget in many cases).   All we need now is a good spell of cold winter weather to encourage the tulips to produce long stems and hope that the spray we use to keep the squirrels at bay works well.  Fingers crossed!

 

Six things for a vase on Saturday

Despite the rather dank and grey days here at the end of November, Carol has still managed to bring together flowers and foliage from the garden to brighten up the house.

In this arrangement we have six for Saturday; two varieties of autumn flowering chrysanthemums (purchased from Sarah Raven but varieties now unknown), the rose ‘Simply the Best’ which is still throwing out new blooms despite the cold, the Viburnum bodnantense which just started to flower and will flower in the garden throughout the coldest days of the winter, the yellow autumn foliage of the Hornbeam and finally the deep purple leaves of Cotinus coggygria.

Although very pretty and a wonderful winter scent in the garden, we must admit that the fragrance of Viburnum bodnantense has proved rather over powering inside the house and is perhaps best left in the garden!

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Viburnum bodnantense

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Rose ‘Simply the Best’

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Powerplanter – reflections on using a new gadget to try and ease the hard work of planting bulbs

Each year we plant literally thousands of bulbs around the garden and if you suffer from any kind of wrist or hand problems it can be very difficult and somewhat painful. To date we have got on best using a standard sturdy trowel but it is hard work especially when planting into turf or uncultivated ground. Over the years we have also tried the stand-up bulb planters but found these very tedious. The plug of soil in the planter never comes out again as easily as it should to refill the hole.

When we saw the adverts for Powerplanter we were intrigued. It seemed like a simple and obvious solution. It is basically a large soil drill that fits into a cordless hand drill and digs you a hole for your bulbs, plug plants or larger plants grown in 9cm pots.

At the time of writing there are four types in the range (www.powerplanter.co.uk) in various sizes ranging from one for planting seeds through to a longer one for ‘stand-up’ digging. The one we chose was the mid-range planter, the 307 model (7 inches long x 3 inches wide). It describes itself as being suitable for ‘potted colour and bulbs’ and cost just under £40.

We have used it for planting autumn bulbs over a number of weeks now and in a nutshell it works! Here are some of our observations:

  • If you are going to use if for any length of time you do need a good quality cordless drill. I found my old drill battery was just not up to the job so treated myself to a new DeWalt DCD776S2T-GB 18V 1.5Ah Li-Ion Cordless Combi Drill. This comes with 2 rechargeable battery packs and is certainly able to keep going longer than I can!
  • The planter works well in moist soil in the cultivated flower beds. It also made light work of creating planting holes in previously uncultivated turf that we had killed off over the summer and had never been dug over. It did begin to struggle cutting into hard dry soil under a large oak tree but I was having difficulty getting a garden fork into that anyway.
  • You do need to be quite organised to avoid your drill getting covered in mud or wet. At this time of year the grass can be damp with dew in the morning and you need somewhere to put your drill down as you move around. I just use an old dog towel which keeps everything dry and clean.
  • When planting the bulbs I have got into the habit of working with one gloved ‘dirty hand’ and one ‘dry clean hand’. The dry clean hand operates the drill whilst the gloved ‘dirty’ hand plants the bulbs and covers over the hole with the loose soil. You can work very fast this way.
  • I have found that the planter is quite accurate and you can easily plant bulbs between other plants without damaging them. For example we have been planting bulbs amongst wall flowers that were set out about 9 inches apart in September.
  • If you are using someone else’s drill you might like to get their permission first. You do have to be quite careful not to get mud into the chuck which certainly could be a pain if the drill is normally used for indoor jobs. The 7 inch planter is only just long enough for digging holes for tulip bulbs and in hind site the longer 12 inch planter might have been better.
  • Finally do read the safety instructions and wear appropriate eye protection. Running on a slow speed it does not throw much soil up towards your face but it could.

Finally for the action movie 😉

For some reason my niece dissolved into fits of laughter seeing me drilling holes in the garden! The youngsters of today have no imagination!

Shades of Autumn

Today has been one of those rather frustrating days in the garden.  One minute the sun is shining and you get all enthusiastic about planting a few more of those tulips you couldn’t resist only to find that as soon as you get out there the heavens open.

In those moments when the shine is shining however the autumn colours really sing.  Across the countryside here in Warwickshire the leaves seem to have remained on the trees this year and the colours are really lovely.

Here is a selection of the autumn colours we are enjoying in the garden at the moment.


One:  The walk up the ‘old’ rose garden contrasts the changing red shades of the purple leaved Cotinus coggygria, Prunus and Viburnum with the yellow of the hornbeam hedge and the distant yellow of the silver birch.

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Two:  This green leaved Smoke Bush at the top of the cutting garden provides a sumptuous autumn display of colour.

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Three:  In the woodland walk these small field maple trees provide a golden glow in the sunshine.

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Four:  Another purple leaved Cotinus this time in the patio bed contrasting with the still green Wisteria and grey leaved Santolina chamaecyparissus.

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Five:  Although a seriously spiky plant when cutting the grass this Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea offers excellent purple foliage all year and is well worth its place in the shrub bed.   At this time of year the foliage develop a range of orange hues.

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Six:  It is of course not just about the leaves at this time of year.  Many of the cotoneaster bushes, sorbus, roses and blackthorn are full of berries and hips. This tall Pyracantha is in its prime at the moment and providing a feast for the birds.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Six birds in a bush on Saturday

The Pyracantha bush just behind the house is in its full glory, covered in bright scarlet berries and looking wonderful in the autumn sunshine.   At this time of year it attracts a wide range of birds, some come to feast on the berries each day, others like to simply sit and soak up the morning sunshine on a cold morning whilst for others it is a safe place to rest on route from A to B.

This week I have tried to capture some of the visitors to this one bush on camera.   Here are six:


One:  Redwing – an autumn and winter visitor to the garden enjoying a meal after flying in from Scandinavia

RedwingTrim_Moment

Redwing audio:

 

Audio credit: Patrik Aberg , Xeno-canto


Two:  Pied wagtail – although not an uncommon bird we don’t often get these in the garden so I was delighted to be able to catch this one on camera.

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Pied wagtail audio:

 

Audio credit: Tomas Belka , Xeno-canto


Three:  Blackbird – a very common bird in many gardens but lovely to have them nesting here and singing their hearts out all the same.

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Blackbird audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto


Four:  A family of sparrows just sitting and enjoying the sun and chatting amongst themselves (now a very much rarer sight than they used to be)

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House sparrow audio:

 

Audio credit: Jarek Matusiak , Xeno-canto


Five:  Greenfinch – the numbers of greenfinchs have declined in recent years partly because of Trichomonosis, the name given to a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. It is nice to have them as an increasingly regular visitor to the garden now.

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Greenfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Sander Bot , Xeno-canto


Six:  Bullfinch – this stunning male bullfinch has been a regular visitor this week and has been joined towards the end of the week by two female bullfinches as well.

P1020209 (2) Bullfinch

Bullfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto

To complete the record I have also seen Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins on this Pyracantha during the week but have not managed to capture them on camera.


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Quince cider – a new experiment for 2018

This year has been our best ever for Quinces in the orchard.  Much as we love Quince Crumble Tarts there is a limit to just how many of these you can eat.

BBC Good Food

Photo Credit:  BBC Good Food

Rather than simply leave the fruit to rot on the compost heap we thought we would explore another method of preserving them and enjoying them over the coming months.  Although we make cider from our apples every year we have not tried quince ‘cider’ before so this is very much an experiment.  I have used the term ‘cider’ as I am not trying to make a quince wine.  I am looking for something that is thirst quenching, fresh and sparking and not as alcoholic as a wine would be.

The fruits have such a fragrant bouquet that they should make a very enjoyable drink in theory but I can imagine that if you use too many the flavour could be over-powering.  Having read various recipes this is the approach we decided to adopt to make our first gallon of trial quince ‘cider’.

I decided to use eight large quince fruits per gallon.  Some recipes suggest 20 per gallon but I think this would result in a flavour that might be too strong.  As the fruits are so rock solid even when ripe they could not be crushed and pressed in the same way as apples.   The quinces were washed, cored and grated (skin on).

The pulp was then added to 4 pints of water in a large pan and brought to the boil.  It was boiled for 15 minutes and then the liquid was strained from the pulp.  Other recipes have suggested that boiling for longer than 15 minutes makes it difficult to clear after fermentation.  The resulting liquor certainly had a very pleasant flavour.

To increase the sugar levels for fermentation I dissolved 1kg of granulated sugar in 2 pints of water and then added this to the quince juice.  This resulted in a specific gravity measurement of SG1080 which is perhaps higher than I might have wished for.  If it ferments out then this would be in excess of 9% alcohol which is pretty potent for a cider.  Time will tell whether the result will be on the sweet side with a lower alcohol content or drier with a higher alcohol level.

A further 2 pints of cold water was added to the must to make up the 8 pints (1 gallon) and this was allowed to cool to tepid before adding a cider yeast.  I also added 2 teaspoons of pectolase to help the cider clear.

All that is left to do now is stand back, admire and wait for the result.  Usually my apple cider is ready to rack in mid-November and it will be interesting to see if the quince cider performs in the same way.

I will let you know how it goes!