As the fate of one of New Zealand’s most iconic buildings is finally being decided (we hope), many people are still wondering if the bells of Christchurch Cathedral will again ring out across the still earthquake damaged city.
However, with spring approaching, we thought we’d take a look at a bell that never rings, yet still brings beauty through its presence alone, the Canterbury Bell (Campanula medium).
What are Canterbury Bells?
Canterbury Bells are from the Campanula genus, which translates from Latin as ‘little bell’. Including 300 species found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, approximately 30 are currently grown in New Zealand. While many plants from this family are perennials, some – including Canterbury Bells – are biennial.
Growing to roughly 65-75cm in height, these plants feature white, pink, purple or blue bell-shaped flowers, offering a little splash of colour throughout the garden.
How, where and when to plant
Grown from seed, Canterbury Bells are usually sown indoors as early as late winter, and planted out after the last frosts. These sun-loving plants prefers bright to lightly shaded conditions, so choose an area in the garden where this beauty can truly ring in the spring.
As they’re not fans of extreme weather, Canterbury Bells should be planted in a sheltered spot where they will be protected from any lingering frosts and heavy rains, particularly if planted early. A neutral to slightly alkaline soil is preferred, with a pH level of 6.6 to 7.8.
As Canterbury Bells can suffer from root and crown diseases, raised beds and free-draining soil are often preferred for cultivation.
Young plants in particular can be vulnerable to weeds so some prudent weeding will ensure these unwelcome visitors don’t challenge for nutrients. Once established, weeds should be sprayed only after the plants have flowered. Canterbury Bells can be subject to rust, with fungi such as plant rust and white mould occasionally causing problems.
If these occur, treat with Neem oil and carefully remove and discard affected leaves. Although they require regular watering, only average levels are necessary to ensure these bells have a ball!
Flowers should be cut during cooler times of day and placed in water immediately afterward.
Once seed heads have dried, seeds can be removed for future planting. While Cantabs are still picking up the pieces of their city, it’s perhaps a little comforting to know that, just as the Canterbury Bell grows from the darkness of winter, their town is rising again, and hopefully will also chime in time with the hoped-for return of Christchurch bells.