Campanulas were the first successful shade flower I ever grew. At that point, I was pretty dim on sun and shade requirements of plants; I just started some Campanula medium seeds, and put the plants out under the high shade of a live oak, where there was some room for them. I thought they’d look pretty there. (As far as I can tell, these are the campanulas whose common name is Cups and Saucers–but there seem to be different schools of thought on this. If anyone can clear it up, please do.)
Unlike most of my garden dreams, this one actually came true. The plants grew into 5-foot spires that flowered pink and violet for many weeks, against a background of orange sunsets glinting off the hard live oak leaves. They also didn’t need inordinate amounts of water. I was sold.
These days, I grow all my campanulas in containers, where they seem quite happy. The single Canterbury Bells in bud in the photo at the top of the page are also Campanula medium, but a different variety. They are supposed to be biennial, like the double Cups and Saucers, but for me many of them act as perennials. Either that or they are very discreetly reseeding and reproducing themselves in the exact same spots.
Sometimes they sport to a hose-in-hose double that’s a variant of Cups and Saucers,
sometimes they sport to a variant that’s closer to the Cups and Saucers form, but doesn’t quite make it.
I don’t have picture of what I think of as real Cups and Saucers for two reasons: the seeds seem to be very hard to find in recent years, and they take two years to flower. Though I love them, this seems to be enough of a barrier that I don’t have them in my garden. If I could find plants, I’d buy them, but alas, they are out of fashion, and therefore unavailable.
C. persicifolia alba to the left; C. medium ‘Canterbury Bells’ in an unadorned single form to the right.
One campanula I love which doesn’t flower well in the shade is Campanula persicifolia alba. I guess that means I should move them out of the shade, where they occasionally vouchsafe a small spire, or a single bloom or two on short stems. I had a hard time getting them to grow from seed, but a friend gave me a ragged chunk of plants she’d been thinning, and they’ve been growing and spreading ever since. C. persicifolia alba (and the purple C. persicifolia) are rampant spreaders, so use caution. But they are also beautiful early-summer flowers (with occasional repeats) that last for weeks in the vase.
Campanula pyramidalis alba has flowers very similar to C. persicifolia alba, but it is a much taller and grander plant, going to four feet in semishade for me. It also blooms much later, often into late fall in our area (this photo was taken in November). Like the other campanulas in this post, it’s conservative on water, though it does need some. It is supposed to be perennial, but mine flowered gloriously one year, and was seen no more. I got my seeds from JL Hudson, where S. Calkins calls it, “Stunning in arrangements.” I must start more, because C. pyramidalis alba is one of the most beautiful and easy-care plants I know.
More on campanulas:
There are so many kinds of campanulas, it would take an expert to know them all. Northern Shade seems close to an expert to me.
JL Hudson has many kinds of campanula seeds, some of them unusual species; pithy descriptions of each.