Campanula

Sue Wooster, National Collection Holder of Alpine Campanulas and RHS Gold Medallist, tells how a visit to the Alps in summer inspired her collection

"My first visit to the Italian Dolomites sowed the seed of my passion for alpine campanulas. There are some real treasures which grow only in small pockets of the Northern Italian alpine regions such as Campanula morettiana and Campanula raineri and the mid-summer meadows in this beautiful area are teaming with Campanula barbata, C. glomerata and C. rotundifolia (the harebell). I had no idea at the time that I would become a National Collection Holder twenty years later...

Peter and Sue Lewis held the National Collection of Campanulacae for 25 years so were part of Plant Heritage from its outset. They were both delighted to help me set up my own collection, as they had been considering retirement when I first contacted them. Whilst I had to begin from scratch, Peter was keen to sell me some of his plants (I seem to remember we sometimes exchanged campanulas for my husband’s freshly baked bread!) and to donate many of his records, slides and photographs to me.

Most of my plants are sourced from specialist alpine nurseries and from enthusiasts in Europe and the UK. I belong to the Alpine Garden Society, the Scottish Rock Garden Club and North American Rock Garden Society so many alpine campanulas are grown from seed, particularly those offered which have been wild-collected.

There are several rare and/or old species and cultivars which I haven’t been able to put into the National Collection. In particular some of the Campanula carpatica forms are no longer offered: for example, C. c. ‘Claribel’, C. c. ‘Harvest Moon’.

Peter Lewis gave me his last few plants of Campanula poscharskyana ‘Pinkins’ which he named over 15 years ago and which he instructed me to propagate and promote. It is a lovely ground hugging pink form which I currently trialling for plant breeders’ rights. It is not as vigorous as the species which generally has got itself a bad name for being invasive. Described by Graham Rice as the best new plant on display at last year’s Hampton Court Flower Show, ‘Pinkins’ has created much interest throughout Europe.

Bellflower Nursery in the walled garden at Langham Hall was launched at the end of March and there will be many old and new campanulas in stock, several which are rarely sold elsewhere, such as Campanula rapunculoides ‘Alba’, C. ‘John Innes’, C. ‘Lynchmere’ and of course ‘Pinkins’.  I will also be selling a good range of alpines, bulbs, shrubs and hardy plants.

The gardening press at the moment is packed with Grow Your Own features and advice, and believe it or not several forms of campanulas have edible parts! I have had requests all winter for seed of Campanula versicolor (the only bellflower with a scent – on a hot day the plant smells of cloves) as the leaves can be used in salads, as can Campanula poscharskyanaCampanula rapunculus has been grown since the middle ages in the vegetable garden for its edible, parsnip-like roots".

For more information about Sue's Collection and for Open Days, contact her at

NCH Alpine Campanulas www.alpinecampanulas.co.uk
 campanulas@btinternet.com
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