Campanulas with Peter Dowdall

Campanologists ring bells.

That’s what they do, be it for pleasure as a hobby or as a career, I can’t imagine there are too many professional campanologists nowadays, but there you go. Unlike the majority of Parisians who have never visited the Eiffel Tower, I am a Corkman who has visited Shandon several times and yes, I have rung the bells. Enjoyable as it was I can’t see the addiction.


I suspect if you look at the walls of  Shandon steeple, or certainly in the surrounding walls, you will see the cracks and crevices colonised by windblown seedlings of that most attractive of rock plants: Campanula. There would be few of us that would get the connection when admiring the beautiful purple/blue flowers hugging the stones and growing out of seemingly nothing, but this pretty little flower and the bell ringers can both
trace their names to the Latin campana meaning bell. Hence Campanologist and also
Campanula. The Campanula I am referring to is a species called muralis and is known as the Alpine Bellflower. Not technically an Alpine in that it is not native to the Alps, this species does, in fact, originate in the Dalmatian mountains in northern Croatia.

As a garden plant in this part of the world, it is a ground or wall hugging low growing
perennial plant which bursts into flower around now and stays in flower nearly all summer
and autumn long. Certainly, if you prune back the flowers when they are finished you will get further flushes. An old-fashioned, traditional plant seen in most gardens, they were either planted or arrived as seeds in the wind or maybe in a bird dropping but to me are far more welcome than many other uninvited guests in the garden. I absolutely adore it as a plant and my garden is literally drowning in a sea of purple at the moment; and I mean drowning as it seems to come up everywhere between sleepers, in gaps in the paving and at the front of beds. One place where it is thriving and doing exactly what I wanted it to is in a bed mixed with Heuchera Marmalade and underneath Alliums. This is a bed where I first had Daffodils, then Tulips and now the Alliums are doing their magnificent thing.


But the problem with Alliums is that when the flower stems are showing off to the world, the foliage is looking less than impressive. In fact, the foliage dies off as the flowers open up from the buds and it can look terrible. You can and I would advise you to cut this foliage with scissors so that the dried and tatty leaves don’t take from the stunning flower heads. I like to underplant Alliums with lower plants as the stems, now bereft of leaves can look a bit strange coming out of bare soil; the effect of the globe-shaped starry blooms being held aloft over the marmalade foliage of the Heuchera, with the purple flowers of Campanula growing through it is giving me exactly the display that I wanted. It is working plants together in this way that we get the best from the garden. This small bed right outside the back door has been full of colour yet still ever-changing since February. When the Alliums are finished I have decided to grow some pink Geraniums in their stead hoping that they will produce their flowers just higher than the Heucheras and that the pink colour will combine nicely again with the Heuchera and Campanula. I couldn’t tell you when I last planted Geraniums in the garden except in window boxes. They are one of these plants that got forgotten by me over the last number of years. Every time I see them somewhere I admire them, yet they never make the cut to get into my own garden, always being beaten by something newer and seemingly more interesting. This year I am determined not to be swayed.


However, I digress, as I was writing about Campanulas and their value in the garden. There are several ground cover forms including carpatica with flowers that nearly seem too big for the size of the plant, cochleariifolia with masses of thimble-like flowers held atop the most slender and delicate looking stems and garganica which is quite a vigorous spereader with flowers more open and less bell-like than the others. C.poscharskyana is another vigorous spreader with star-shaped and open flowers. What makes it quite different is that the flowers are produced on long spreading stems up to 30cm in length. Care should be taken where you plant it as it can make itself very much at home in your garden spreading freely. It’s a great choice for pots and containers as the stems can hang down the sides particularly useful if you want a plant that will come on year after year. Of the muralis types, try and source ‘Catharina’ as it tends to produce more flowers and over a longer period than the species.