Event date: Monday 25th April 2016
Speaker: Leila Jackson
Write-up by Pam Ratcliffe

Leila Jackson undertook a 580-mile round trip through hail, sleet, snow and occasional bright sunshine to give us a highly entertaining and informative talk on the Campanulaceae family.

Leila and her father run T3 Wall End Nursery near Leominster in Hereford. They are proud to grow 99% of their plants on site: they propagate every day, from seed, cuttings, divisions and air rooting. Many plants are grown in the ground – a rich red clay – so that customers can see their shape, size and form.

Leila was trained at Pershore College and spent her gap year at Oxford Botanic Garden where, for almost 4 months, she looked after the long herbaceous border. She described ‘the lawnmower challenge’ at OBG, when at the time that the plants were dormant she was instructed to mow the long border – yes, mow it! – to show that it is the roots which are the vital part of herbaceous plants.

Most of her time is devoted to her National Collection of abutilons, which will flower indoors all year and outdoors for 7–8 months, but she also loves campanulas.

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The name campanula comes from the Latin ‘little bell’, and its English common name is ‘bell flower’. Campanulas are found throughout the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, with the greatest diversity around the Mediterranean. There are around 500 species – annuals, biennials and perennials – from 5cm high alpines to 2m tall in the North American grasslands. Our native campanula is the harebell, C. rotundifolia.

Flowers are usually mauve, blue or white (sometimes pink) held in panicles, whorls or as solitary single bells. The seed capsules are initially glossy but after 7–10 days the outer shell becomes brown and thinner and within 2–3 days the multitude of tiny seeds are dispersed. Some campanulas self-seed vigorously and can take over, though they are easily pulled up. The leaves are varied in shape but all are covered in soft hairs, trichomes, to reduce water loss. Broken or cut leaves and stems ooze white latex that, like euphorbias, can be a harmful irritant.

Campanulas tolerate full sun in a moisture-retentive soil, but they prefer to be in part shade in any type of soil. If they are cut back to the basal rosette after their first flowering they will often give a second (shorter) flush. They provide 6–8 weeks of intense colour in swathes in the border, or great combinations can be made when different colours are divided (cut them up like a tray bake!), mixed up, and planted very close together with Lychnis coronaria. The taller types tend to fall over, but because they are phototrophic the flower-heads will always point up.

Leila’s favourites are:

  1. garganica – a creeper, easy to grow and propagate
  2. persicifolia – the common border staple; easy, but beware of doubles and cultivars bred for colour which can lack the vigour to survive
  3. glomerata – the Clustered Bellflower, rich purple-blue
  4. linifolia – a sprawling native which repeat flowers; rather like a harebell but looks silvery in morning and evening light
  5. portenschlagiana – blousy, solid flowers; self-seeds but may not last long
  6. punctata – spreading, upright, 80cm tall, repeat flowerer, but as each cream bell dies it needs dead-heading
  7. punctata ‘Sarastro’ – reliable and vigorous spreader, purple flowers
  8. punctata f. rubriflora – very popular, vigorous, dense pink flowers but ungracious habit. The brightest pink is ‘Cherry Bells’
  9. alliariifolia – graceful upright habit, long white bells
  10. lactiflora – good border plant but heavy flower-heads
  11. barbata – hairy, needs shade, leaf litter and no disturbance. Difficult!

Campanula cousins:

Adenophera cymerae – huge basal rosette and upright stems

  1. triphylla var. japonica – flowers held like Angels’ Fishing Rods
  2. liliifolia – good for pollinators

Symphyandra pendula – loves shade, lime green leaves

  1. zanzegura – tangled aubergine stems, seeds easily

Phyteuma scheuchzeri –Horned Rampion, spikey petals

  1. comosum – alpine

Codonopsis pilosula – almost 2m tall twining climber, smells of fox! Tuber, not a basal rosette

  1. clematidea – 60cm, herbaceous, likes shade, beautiful markings inside the flowers
  2. forrestii – large mauve open flowers, 2m climber

The audience’s favourite appeared to be Campanula cochlearifolia, Fairy Thimbles, photographed creeping round a set of steps. Look out for it next year on visits to Hardy Planters’ gardens!