What are campanulas?
Bellflowers or campanulas provide saucer-shaped, tubular, bell or star-shaped five-lobed flowers in various shades ranging between pink, blue and white. There are more than 300 species, including annuals, biennials and perennials, found in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere in woodland, meadow and high mountain. Campanula mainly flowers in the first half of the year and some will flower again if cut back. Campanula height range from tiny alpines at a few centimetres high to the chimney bellflower (Campanula pyramidalis), which can get to almost 2m. Campanula grows in easily in well-drained conditions in good light, but not good in waterlogged, or on overfed ground. However, some more invasive species do prefer moisture, including Campanula takesimana, Campanula latifolia and Campanula lactiflora.
How to grow campanula
- Bellflowers and campanulas are a mixed bunch, but they share several common traits. They tend to set copious amounts of fine seeds that can fly round the garden on a breeze. This causes problems for the gardener and the nurseryman as many named cultivars (such as Campanula lactiflora ’Prichard’s Variety’) have been replaced by inferior seedlings. Always deadhead.
- Spent stems should be cut down after flowering: this often encourages regrowth from the base, improving the plant’s appearance.
- Campanulas have bad habits. Some shift about in the garden and move on to fresh ground. Some (such as ‘Pink Octopus’) are aggressive smotherers of other plants. Some form huge woody rootstocks and lose vigour within four years. This is especially true of Campanula lactiflora.
- Regular propagation from cuttings taken in spring (every third year) is essential if you spot woody, gnarled roots at the base, or sense a lack of vigour. The best border bellflowers, named forms of Campanula lactiflora, will fade away if left untended.
- Always remove spent flowers as they fade, for campanulas often die badly, especially the white flowered forms. This will promote more flower and prevent unwanted seedlings. Most are cut back to the base. Lactifloras are deadheaded like roses so that more flower appears lower down.
- Rust can be a problem, but normally plants recover in the following year.
- Chelsea chopping your plants by reducing them by a third in the third week of May can delay flowering, but generally plants are best left alone. The exception is Campanula lactiflora as this will still flower just as profusely.
- Some campanulas need staking and this must be done when growth is two-thirds complete. However, the floppy Campanula lactiflora cultivars and the wiry-stemmed Campanula persificolia can be supported by planting partners.
The best campanula to grow in your garden
Campanula latifolia ‘Buckland’
© Jason Ingram
A seedling from the pure-white Campanula latifolia var. alba, the purple eye and faintest flush of that colour in the white, elevates this into a classy looking perennial. Although upright in growth, I have never needed to stake this plant, and because the clump occupies very little ground space, it can provide very useful vertical accent points among lower-growing perennials. After flowering the skeletal seedheads are also attractive for a short period before they are best cut back. Height 1m. Origin Garden origin (species from Europe and western Asia). Conditions Any soil; full sun to part shade. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 4a-9b. Season of interest Summer. KW
Campanula lactiflora ‘alba’
© Jason Ingram
The real, but elusive, cultivar should be pure-white without any touches of blue or grey. Like all white campanulas it browns as it fades. However it is stunning set among dark roses. AGM.
Campanula lactiflora ‘Loddon Anna’
A lavender-pink cultivar spotted at Thomas Carlile’s Loddon Nursery in Twyford by his daughter Wendy. It was launched in 1952 the year his granddaughter Anna was born. It’s a weaker grower that’s inclined to fade out so propagate regularly and deadhead as seedlings revert to blue. Up to 1m tall. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 4a-9a.
For the wild garden only as this is a terribly invasive self-seeder. The drooping bells hang down from one side of the spike. In the wild it grows in the conifer forests of Turkey, the Caucasus and Anatolia. 60cm. USDA 3a-9a.
Campanula persicifolia ‘Fleur de Neige’
A double white cultivar of the peach-leaved bellflower of early summer, which forms rosettes. Difficult to stake, but it threads through other plants. Deadhead to prevent the fine seed from settling. 70cm.
Campanula ‘Kent Belle’
© Jason Ingram
A long-flowering hybrid (Campanula takesimana x Campanula latifolia) found at Elizabeth Strangman’s Washfield Nursery between 1970 and 1980, with glossy deep-violet tubular bells and green foliage. 90cm. AGM. USDA 4b-8a.
Longstanding favourite. The grey-blue tubular flowers appear against a background of purple buds. This sterile hybrid of Campanula punctata and Campanula latifolia, which prefers dappled shade, is long-lived. 60cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.
Campanula persicifolia ‘Hampstead White’
Considered the finest white peach-leaved cultivar on the RHS Trial. Green buds open to elegant cup and saucer-shaped doubles held on strong stems providing four weeks of flower. The linear foliage is green and healthy. 70cm.
Campanula latiloba ‘Hidcote Amethyst’
A pretty lilac-pink cultivar, which is more refined than typical clones. Grown at Hidcote and Kiftsgate in Gloucestershire. Lovely in bud and flower and almost certainly the best form of Campanula latiloba – although all forms will ramble into fresh ground. 1m. RHS H4, USDA 4a-9a.
Campanula ‘Purple Sensation’
© Claire Takacs
Dark-purple flowers emerge from near-black buds and hang in great profusion. 60cm. USDA 3a-6b.
Campanula glomerata ‘Emerald’
A clustered bellflower named for its green foliage, with pale sky-blue flowers tinted in lavender pink. Campanula ‘Caroline’ is similar, but with pinker flowers. Both will stray and both can disappear. 60cm. USDA 3a-8b.
Campanula takesimana ‘Elizabeth’
The deep-pink long bell, selected by nursery-woman Elizabeth Strangman, is a brighter colour and the handsome heart-shaped foliage is often darkly veined. It can be invasive, but can also disappear. 60-90cm. USDA 4a-10a.
© Richard Bloom
An upright rough, hairy plant found on dry meadows and steppic grassland on sunny slopes and the steep sides of marl hummocks. 20-50cm.
Found in Siberia, China and Japan, this produces long tubular bells in dusky pink. The foliage spreads and there never seems to be enough flowers. Dark ruby selections and doubles exist. 45cm upwards. USDA 4a-9b.
Campanula glomerata ‘Freya’
A new selection made by Arie Blom from a population of Campanula glomerata seedlings. ‘Freya’ has tight clusters of purple flowers. Some think it’s too compact, but it’s rarely out of flower. 45 cm. USDA 3a-8b.
Campanula lactiflora ‘Prichard’s Variety’
A mop of outward facing bells, rather phlox-like in appearance. Deadhead and propagate from cuttings every third year to retain vigour. Up to 1m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 3a-9a.
A newer hybrid from the Sarastro Nursery in Austria, with 5cm-long dusky purple tubular bells and grey-green foliage. Showy, yet harder to place due to large flowers. Up to 90cm. USDA 4b-8a.
Campanula latiloba ‘Highcliffe Variety’
Stalkless, lavender-violet saucer-shaped flowers held on stiff stems provide two to three weeks of colour in early summer. Can look ragged and coarse after flowering. 1m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.
Campanula latifolia ‘Eriocarpa’
These elegant campanulas have spires of bell flowers. These colonise the top part of the stem only, supported by leaves, so they can add an airy presence. Campanula ‘Eriocarpa‘ is a neater purple plant of Russian origin, preferring good soil.