COMMON NAME: bellflower
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
C. glomerata ‘Joan Elliott’-clustered bellflower; deep violet-blue; May-June. C. medium ‘Caerulea’; blue. C. rotundifolia ‘Olympica’-bluebell of Scotland; blue; June-September; 12 inches. C. carpatica ‘China Doll’-lavender blue; 8 inches. C.c. ‘Wedgewood Blue’-5 to 6 inches. C.c. ‘Wedgewood White’-white; 8 inches.
BLOOMS: late spring, summer
TYPE: biennial and perennial
DESCRIPTION: There are many kinds of bellflowers. Most have cup-shaped flowers and small leaves, and colors come in blue, lavender, and white. Cultivars of Campanula carpatica are perennials that grow only 8 inches tall and are used in mass plantings in borders or in rock gardens. These do not have the “saucer” part that is present in the other species.
CULTIVATION: Different species have distinctly different cultural requirements, so positively identifiy species you want to grow in your garden. Bellflowers can be grown in full sun or partial shade, and they thrive in average garden soil. Seeds can be sown in June for blooms the following year. Sow seeds 1/8 inch deep, and thin plants to 12 inches apart. Perennial plants should be divided in fall or spring. Remove faded blossoms to prolong flowering. The Carpathian bellflower, C. carpatica, should spread nicely after a period of about three to four years. This plant blooms well from June until October. Canterbury bells, C. medium, needs mulch in winter in cold climates. These do best in full sun but will grow in half-day or filtered sunlight as well.
Bellflowers are known by a multitude of common names. Some of the more colorful ones are wild hyacinth, Venus looking glass, Canterbury bells, our Lady’s nightcap, Mercury violet, viola mariana, mariets, coventry bells, bats in the belfry, and our Lady’s thimble. Most of these, of course, refer to the bell-shaped flower. The genus name, Campanula, is from the Latin word for little bell.
The name Venus looking glass comes from a legend in which Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, lost her magic mirror. Anyone who looked in this mirror would see nothing but beauty. A poor shepherd boy found it, became entranced with his own image, and did not want to give it back. Venus sent Cupid down to get it back, and in his haste, Cupid struck the shepherd’s hand. The mirror shattered, and everywhere a piece of it landed, this flower began to grow.
C. rapunculus was made famous by the brothers Grimm. In the story of Rapunzul a man stole a piece of the bellflower from the garden of a witch for his pregnant wife. The witch caught him and made him promise that when the child was born, she would be given to the witch and named after the plant he had stolen. This is how Rapunzul got her name and inherited all her problems.
In addition to providing inspiration for fairy tales, C. rapunculus has other attributes. It is called the native English rampion and has been cultivated since the fifteenth century. It is supposedly an excellent vegetable and can be eaten raw like a radish. The roots are said to be sweet because they store food in the form of sugar, rather than starch. Leaves and blossoms of this plant were made into concoctions used to treat sore throats.
An old superstition about rampion is that if you grow it in your garden, your children will be quarrelsome.
Other names for species of bellflowers suggest even more uses. Chimney bellflower is grown in pots during summer months and placed in empty fireplaces for decoration.
Still another bellflower species is called throatwort and was used as a gargle.
Be sure you know one species from another before you start munching on bellflowers, however, for the fresh bulbs of some species are considered poisonous.
Substances from these bulbs can be used as glue for book binders or as a substitute for starch.
Bellflower is the symbol of constancy and kindness.