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Growing bellflower from seed

Fairy Tale Charm: Growing Bellflower from Seed

If you're looking for something borrowed or something blue for your floral bouquet, you can hop the fence and swipe some bellflower from your neighbor's garden...or easily grow your own from seed.

We currently offer two popular varieties, Bellflower Superba and Tussock Bellflower. Each has its own growth habit, but both enhance your outdoor spaces and your home interior, as they make excellent cut flowers.

The guests are summoned by the bell tower,

And the groom is marched to the church

The ugly bride distracts him with a bouquet of bellflower

'Til the kiss...when her breath makes the poor sod lurch

We totally made that up, in case that's not totally obvious. Give us a little least we're broadening our horizons beyond dirty limericks.

Though we at Seed Needs won't be wooing anyone with poetry, that doesn't detract from the fact that both Campanula carpatica and Campanula glomerata "Superba" possess the means to bewitch anyone. What we lack in poetic talent, we compensate for by offering fresh, high-quality seeds for your ornamental garden.

Meet the Campanulas: Fact and Folklore

Borrowing its name from campana, the Latin word for "bell," the Campanula genus is only one of 88 in the Campanulaceae family, which includes about 2,500 separate species. They're native to Europe, western Asia, and the Caucasus region.

Some varieties, such as Campanula rapunculus, are edible. The folklore heroine Rapunzel is reportedly named for C. rapunculus' flower. The plant itself bears the common name, "rampion."

When Rapunzel's mother was pregnant with her, she didn't crave pickle and peanut butter sandwiches. Nooo! That's too easy and too trite! She had the jones for rampion root and sent her husband to fetch her some.

Since he came up short everywhere else, he decided to raid the neighborhood witch's garden, stealing rampions from her own personal stash. The witch busts the hapless father-to-be, who is forced to give up his newborn daughter as payment. (For a saucy insight into the Grimm's original version of Rapunzel's not-so-Disney story, go here.)

Other cultures believed that wood fairies napped inside bellflower blooms. Scottish bellflowers, also known as harebells (as are other bellflowers), are associated with a myth that tells of shapeshifting witches. The crones would change into hares and hide among the plants.

In ancient Roman mythology, a mirror stolen from Venus shattered on the ground; from the mirror's shards sprang bellflowers, giving the plant the nickname "Venus' Looking Glass Flower."

Jacqueline Cross, in an article for the Dave's Garden website, shares some lore associated with bellflowers. One Campanula variety, commonly called "Dead Man's Bells" earned its name from "the belief that fairies cast spells on those who dare to trample on or pick the delicate blooms." Cross hints that the legend is an old wives' tale conjured up by gardeners who got ticked off by people messing with their garden beds.

We gardeners can always use a lesson or two in psychological warfare.

Edible bellflower varieties are popular in Chinese herbal medicine and Korean cooking, according to Origami Delight. Other sources note that the leaves, roots, and shoots were a staple for Europeans in the Middle Ages and a cure for sore throats and hoarseness.

We're not confident about recommending bellflower as an herbal remedy or salad green, nor do we think it's an equitable trade for newborns. We do, however, have absolutely no reservations about growing these gorgeous plants for their ornamental value, whether as a garden specimen or as a freshly cut or dried floral design element.

Bellflower "Superba" (Campanula glomerata "Superba")

Also called "clustered bellflower" or "Dane's blood," Superba is a low-maintenance herbaceous perennial. There are several bellflowers that go by the "clustered" designation due to their bunching blooms, but Superba is perhaps the most stunning. Each cluster is made of up to 15 upward-facing, fluted 1.5" purple flowers.

If you can't tear yourself away from your gorgeous garden, you can bring your flowers indoors. Simply cut entire bellflower stems and keep them in water for as much as two weeks.

The five-petaled flowers are (no surprise here) bell-shaped and starlike. Smaller clusters seem to stepladder up stem leaf axes—that's the plural of axis...these plants aren't ax murderers—on 24" sturdy stems leading to a grand, showy kapow at the stem's terminus. These bellflowers kick off their bloom period late spring, and with diligent deadheading, you can keep their displays going well into August.

Superba is a compact, clumping variety with a basal mound 12" to 24" wide and 12" to 16" tall. The deep green lower leaves are narrow, slightly serrated, and somewhat fuzzy, growing up to 5" long. Sparse, smaller leaves grow along the plant's upright stem.

Campanula glomerata S. spreads by its rhizomes and by reseeding, so if you're a lazy gardener you'll be rewarded by the botanical equivalent of Tribbles within a few years. Each plant should be divided every third year.

Tussock Bellflower (Campanula carpatica)

If you prefer a more rounded, clumping, compact plant evenly covered with blooms, you'll love Tussock bellflower. Also called "Carpathian bellflower" and "Carpathian harebell," C. carpatica is native to central and eastern Europe's dramatic Carpathian mountains.

In contrast to Superba and other clustered bellflowers, Tussock bellflower's blooms are broader and more open; the petals are fused and symmetrical and retain the starlike outline and deep, bell-shaped profile shared by all the Campanulas. Tussock bellflowers are white or varying shades of blue, indigo, or purple, with prominent anthers in the center.

Its leaves are small in comparison to its flowers but are themselves visually appealing. Arrow-shaped and irregularly serrated, they have a slightly crumpled texture and vary from medium to dark green.

Choosing a Spot for Bellflower Plants

The Cliff Notes version? Stick this hardy and versatile plant pretty much anywhere, and you're good to go...but for best results, have a look at these hints for selecting the perfect location for your bellflower plants.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Prefers well-draining soil; tolerates wet soil. For best results, keep them moist but not soggy.
  • Does well in most soil types (from clay to sandy)
  • Wide pH range (5.8-6.8)
  • Use for rock borders, along walkways, or as a container plant
  • Deer resistant
  • Rabbit resistant
  • Attracts pollinating insects, butterflies, ladybugs, and hummingbirds.
  • No notable pests or diseases, but keep an eye out for mildew, aphids, and slugs.

Even though they're compact, bellflower plants do tend to spread. You can cut back your plants in early spring or in fall to keep them looking neat, and they're easy to divide to prevent them from crowding out their neighbors.

Growing Bellflower from Seed

Most plants that easily reseed themselves will put up with even a novice garden's efforts. Starting Campanula plants from seed takes a little bit more care than most, but once they've taken hold, they're easy keepers.

Even with the freshest seeds, their germination rate is on the low side, so we recommend planting multiple seeds in each spot for best results.

Seeds may be direct-sown in fall, or in spring after the soil warms to 70°F. We recommend starting your bellflower seeds indoors under lights and on a heat mat 6 to 8 weeks before your area's predicted last frost date.

Growing depth: Press 3 to 4 seeds into the surface of a fine, damp seedling mix or moist peat pellet. Don't cover the seeds; they need sunlight to germinate.

Watering tips: Bottom water your substrate and very lightly mist the surface soil so as not to disturb your seeds or drown the tiny seedlings.

Germination time: This is where most gardeners get hung up. It could take as many as three weeks for seedlings to emerge, even under ideal temperatures. We recommend cold stratification for a period of 30 days prior to spring planting.

Plant spacing and thinning: If you have multiple emergent seedlings in a single pot or tray compartment, carefully snip (don't pull!) the least vigorous plant at soil level. Ultimately, you'll want to give each plant plenty of room; transplant healthy 6" tall seedlings (or thin direct-sown plants) every 24 inches.

Maintenance: Pinch spent or fading flowers throughout the growing season to extend the bloom period. In the fall or early spring, cut back your bellflowers 1 to 3 inches above soil level. A general-purpose fertilizer (10-10-10) applied in spring will give your plants a healthy boost. Give them a layer of mulch—be careful to keep it away from the plant stems—to retain moisture and protect the roots from overheating.

Let Your Hair Down. Garden with Seed Needs

Why go raiding your neighbor's yard when you can grow your own bellflower plants? Granted, your neighbor isn't likely an old grumpy hag, but for the sake of your children, don't risk it. (And if you do get caught, have more cojones than Rapunzel's wuss of a pop.)

For your best shot at a fairytale ending, you'll want to start with the freshest seeds. Some plants have a low germination rate, and members of the bellflower family are among the most stubborn. Let us give you the best odds with our high-quality, open-pollinated bellflower seeds.

The longer plant seeds sit around, the quicker they lose their viability. We never keep old, dusty seeds around, sourcing our stock from reputable producers so that we can provide you with fresh, fat, and feisty seeds.  We keep our supply under climate-controlled conditions and hand-package them ourselves to make sure you're only getting the best.

Contact us to learn more about our ornamental, vegetable, and herb seeds, or if you've sighted garden fairies hanging out in your bellflowers. Or...if you decide to declare war on that wicked, kid-stealing witch next door. Just, or it didn't happen!
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