No cottage garden would be complete without the showy blooms of Canterbury bells. A member of the campanula family, this charming, old-fashioned flower has been a staple for centuries. Because they’re biennial (meaning they don’t bloom until their second year in your garden) growing and caring for Canterbury bells will require a little patience, but they’re well worth the wait.
The first year, seeds will form a rosette (or wide, flat clump) of leaves, but no flowers. In the plant’s second year, the rosettes send up spikes of large (up to two inches) bell-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, and blue. Generally, there is one central spike of about three feet, surrounded by side stems one to two feet in length. Canterbury bells are hardy between zones 4 and 10.
Canterbury bells can be grown in full sun to part shade; and because they do best in cooler temperatures, you’ll want to give them more shade in hotter climates. Scatter seeds outdoors in fertile, well-drained soil that has a neutral pH and then cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep area moist. Because the plants don’t produce flowers the first year, some gardeners start the seeds in an out-of-the-way part of their garden or in nursery pots, and then transplant them in the second year to flower beds. Rosettes should be covered over with mulch in the winter.
If grown in a nursery pot or a separate part of the garden, transplant your Canterbury bells to their permanent location in spring. Because of their height, flower stalks may need staking, especially when blooming. Canterbury bells make excellent cut flowers, and harvesting or deadheading spikes will encourage additional blooms. Be sure to allow some flowers to go to seed, either to collect for next year’s crop or to let drop in the bed and reseed naturally. In the second year, it’s a good idea to start a new crop of seeds as well, ensuring you’ll have a constant supply.