Campanulas are an ancient family of 300 wild species spread through out the Northern Hemisphere and especially Europe plus the Mediterranean. About 30 species and hybrids are grown in New Zealand gardens up and down the country.
Their name is Latin for "little bell" and are commonly known as Bell Flowers. Several species like C. rotundifolia, the Harebell or Bluebell, have long been associated with truth and luck. Centuries ago it was believed wearing a garland of bellflowers compelled one to tell the truth. If they sprang up in the garden it was a sign of a righteous individual.
A Medieval charm for luck once included picking a Campanula Bellflower and saying, "Bluebell, bluebell bring me some luck and delight before tomorrow night". The tiny Campanula flower was then slipped into one’s shoe to seal the spell. In the Victorian language of flowers Campanula were considered to be a symbol of gratitude and constancy.
Today Campanulas enjoy the lucky position of being valued garden plants. Dwarf, spreading species are used in rockeries, alpine gardens, wall cascades, baskets and pot culture. Taller species, sometimes attaining 2m/6ft. and many make good cut flowers.
They are often found in open borders or the wild garden. Colours include the widest range of blue shades in nature also white, pink and occasionally red. Campanulas are easily grown in ordinary soils even rather poor soils provided they are well drained as they do not like wet feet. But they do enjoy lime, mature compost and that perfect drainage, especially the low growing species.
Their ideal soil often is enriched with leaf mould. Most are hardy perennials but C. medium, Canterbury Bells, is grown as an annual/biennial. Usually it is sown in Spring, Summer or at the very latest, Early Autumn and will flower the following Summer.
Many Campanula species prefer cool Winters for sustained growth. In warmer climates the closely related Adenophora, until recently classified as a true Campanula, makes a great substitute for the taller perennial species. These are very good in sun or partial shade where the colours will remain brighter.
Delicate flower petals do sometimes singe in scorching heat. All species enjoy plenty of moisture and light organic mulch.
Divide old clumps every 2-3 years. This is best done after flowering has finished and the plants have been cut down. They are easily transplanted while nearly dormant from Late Autumn and throughout the Winter and into Early Spring.
At the time of division and transplanting, root cuttings can be taken from strong roots cut just below the crown. Half fill a pot with propagating mix. Then rest these pieces of root crown end upright in the bed of propagating mix and then fill in over them right to the top of the roots.
Water thoroughly and add a little more soil if it settles so that the top of the roots are just covered. Place this pot of root cuttings in a cool, bright, humid spot. Often it is wise to place the entire pot within a plastic bag to maintain higher humidity. With luck, little plants will usually sprout from the top of the roots by Spring.
Seed of perennial species can be started in Winter under glass with bottom heat for later transplanting in Spring. Or sow in Spring, Early Summer and Autumn. Start Canterbury Bells in Late Spring or Summer from seed for Autumn and Winter transplanting.
Perennial species often take 2 months or more from sowing before they are strong enough to plant out into the garden. Canterbury Bells, when sown in warm weather can sometimes be ready to transplant in as little as six weeks from seed.
In milder climates that do not experience severe frosts and frequent freezing weather, advanced seedlings can be planted out throughout Winter. This will give them the opportunity to become established before Spring growth and flowering.
Once plants come into active growth, most species can be increased from vegetative cuttings plunged into a sand/peat mix. These strike most successfully when taken from at least partially mature stems in Late Spring, Summer to Early Autumn.