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Garden Journal

Canterbury Bells a good choice for the back of beds

By Paul Barbano | Jul 09, 2014
The large, showy flowers first form as dangling bells that later open up into cup-shaped blossoms.

It is July, and July is rife with humidity, bugs and history. We name plants after other things out of whimsy, such as dogwood or out of mimicry, such as foxtail millet. So if a plant has bell-shaped flowers it might very well be called a bellflower or simply “bells.” And the most famous bells might very well be the bells of Canterbury Cathedral, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England.

The cathedral dates back to 597; the bells probably not so much. This was the destination of Chaucer’s pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Winner got a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark if they returned.

The aptly named Canterbury Bells flowers are just about to go to seed now and in the cause of mimicking nature, July might be a good time to sow seeds of our own. These two- to three-foot tall plants are a good choice for the back of shorter annuals and perennials. Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium) bloom in purple, violet, blue, lavender, pink and white. The large, showy flowers first form as dangling bells that later open up into cup-shaped blossoms. This biennial is an excellent cut flower that will last weeks in a vase. Cut the stems every other day and add fresh water.

The plants are deer resistant. And best of all, they are easy to grow from seed. As a biennial, Canterbury Bells bloom in the second year, although they can sometimes bloom in the first year.

Canterbury Bells are hardy in USDA Zones 4-10. It does best in full sun to partial shade with moist soil that drains well. It may need afternoon shade to protect it from hot sun in warmer climates.

To plant Canterbury Bells, prepare a smooth-raked garden bed. Just sprinkle the fine seeds directly on top of the soil. The seeds need light to germinate so do not cover the seeds with soil. Gently water the seedbed.

After three or four weeks, feed them every two weeks with a diluted organic fertilizer.

During your first year, the plants will only grow into a low-growing cluster or rosette of leaves. You can mulch them in the fall, but be sure to remove any mulch early next spring.

The Canterbury Bells that you plant now will bloom next summer. Once you have a mature planting of Canterbury Bells they will often self-seed.

If you decide you might rather have more flowers this year you can deadhead or cute back the spent flowers in hopes that the plants will send up another bunch of stalks to bloom before frost.

You can cover all bases by cutting back most of the flowers and leaving just a few to go to seed.

Canterbury Bells are also nice container plants where they can be coached into blooming almost all summer.

Scatter some Canterbury Bell seeds this July and you will have magical blooms next summer, enough to celebrate at the Tabard Inn perhaps. No pilgrimage needed.

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