A cottage garden staple, Canterbury bells are beloved for their unique blossoms and dramatic, upright stems. Also known as cup and saucer or Coventry bells, Campanula medium bloom in summer, bringing rich shades of blue, purple, pink, and white to the garden. In the language of flowers, a gift of Canterbury bells sends a message of gratitude. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about Canterbury Bells flower meaning, symbolism, popular types, uses, and essential growing tips.
- Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium) – The Essentials:
- About Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium)
- The Meaning & Symbolism of Canterbury Bells
- Uses and Benefits of Canterbury Bells
- How to Grow Canterbury Bells
- Caring for Canterbury Bells
- Best Companion Plants for Canterbury Bells
- Creative Uses for Canterbury Bells
- Canterbury Bells Flower Crafts
- Canterbury Bells FAQs:
- Wrapping Up
Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium) – The Essentials:
|Scientific Name:||Campanula medium|
|Native Range:||Europe and Asia|
|Colors:||Purple, blue, pink, white|
|Characteristics:||Bell-shaped flowers with long, narrow leaves|
|Mature Height:||2 to 3 feet|
|Flowering Season:||Late spring to early summer|
|Growing Zones:||5 to 8|
|Sunlight:||Full sun to partial shade|
|Watering:||Moderate watering with well-draining soil|
|Soil:||Well-draining soil with average to high fertility|
|Fertilizing:||Once or twice during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer|
|Pests:||Can be susceptible to slugs and snails|
|Pruning:||Deadheading can promote continued flowering|
|Symbolism:||Represents gratitude, support, or constancy.|
About Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium)
Canterbury bells belong to the Campanula genus, which contains about 500 species and sub-species, collectively called bellflowers. These flowering plants are part of the Campanulaceae or bellflower family, which includes almost 2400 species across more than 80 genera.
As their name suggests, bellflower plants bloom with blossoms shaped like little bells or cups. These blooms are usually blue or purple but may also be pink or white. Canterbury bell flowers grow in panicles.
The plants reach up to almost three feet tall and a foot wide at maturity, which takes two years, as C. medium is a biennial. In the first year, Canterbury bells only grow rosettes or clumps of green leaves with serrated edges. In the second year, the magic happens when a stem emerges, and bell-shaped flowers appear. Flowers are long-lasting and can last from late spring through mid-summer.
C. medium is native to southern Europe. Today, the plants have naturalized around northern Europe and in temperature regions of North America.
The Meaning & Symbolism of Canterbury Bells
It’s easy to see where Canterbury bells get (at least part) of their common name: from the bell-shaped flowers with a clapper-like stamen in the middle. The “Canterbury” reference isn’t quite as clear.
The flowers are native to southern Europe and are thought to originate from the Pyrenees region of France and Spain. That means they definitely don’t originate from Kent, home to the Canterbury Cathedral.
Instead, botanical records note that the plants were likely introduced to the British Isles at the end of the 16th century. The flowers were known as “Coventry Bells” for the next century before taking on the Canterbury moniker in the 1800s. To further complicate matters, the 19th-century horticulturalist Joseph Breck wrote that the plants were also known as “Venus’s Looking Glass.”
At least the plant’s scientific name is easy to understand. Campanula means “bell” in Latin.
In the language of flowers, Canterbury bells tend to be associated with various symbolic meanings. A gift of C. medium may send a message of gratitude, support, or constancy. They’re a perfect way to let someone know you’re thinking of them, to say thank you, or to acknowledge support.
Canterbury bells are subjects of art and literature. Paintings by American artist Laura Coombs Hills, British artist Mary Elizabeth Stormont, and Australian artist Arthur Streeton — all of whom worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — painted Canterbury Bells. So did 18th-century Belgian watercolorist Pierre Joseph Redoute.
The flowers figure in the works of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, a poet from the 1800s. “The Canterbury Bell,” published in 1837, utilizes the flowers as a metaphor for doomed love.
Uses and Benefits of Canterbury Bells
Canterbury bells have long been cultivated across Europe and North America and are highly valued as ornamentals. Florists appreciate their long-lasting blossoms and sweet, minty scent.
Though they’re not known to have common medicinal uses, young C. medium shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, and the cooked roots can be eaten. The flowers are used to make green and blue dyes.
The bell-shaped flowers attract pollinators. Bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies are all attracted to Canterbury bells.
How to Grow Canterbury Bells
When choosing a location to plant Canterbury bells, look for a site that receives full sun to partial shade. Choose a spot that receives filtered light or afternoon shade in warmer areas.
Canterbury bells grow best in loamy, sandy, or silty soil rich in organic matter. Soil that’s moist yet well-draining is best. The plants prefer neutral pH but can also thrive in slightly acidic or alkaline soil. Aim for a pH level from 6.0 to 8.0.
To grow Canterbury bells from seed, you can sow directly into prepared nursery beds in the garden in late spring or early summer. Thin the plants to about 12 to 15 inches. Overwinter by covering it with a layer of mulch.
Alternately, start plants indoors in late winter by sowing seeds into trays filled with potting media. Scatter vermiculite over the seeds, then mist to keep the trays moist.
Keep the trays at a temperature between 65 and 70. When the seedlings emerge in about a month, place the tray in a sunny spot and keep it evenly moist. Harden off the seedlings in mid-spring, then transplant them into garden beds after frost danger is over.
As Canterbury bells are biennials, stalks, and flowers will grow in the second year. The plants can get top-heavy when flowering. Planting in groups will help the plants support each other, but you may also need to use stakes in windy areas.
Canterbury bells are a gorgeous addition to flower beds and borders. If planted in rows, their 3-foot height makes them an excellent choice for the second row. They also provide a pop of color when grown amongst shrubs. And, of course, they’re perfect for cottage garden-style landscaping.
Caring for Canterbury Bells
Canterbury bells can be susceptible to pests such as slugs, snails, mites, and aphids. Keep a close watch for these pests and treat accordingly. Watch for diseases such as rust and root rot. Adequate air circulation and properly draining soil will help prevent these issues.
To maximize blooms, water plants just enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Deadheading old flowers encourages more bloom production.
Protect these biennials over the winter by layering on a moderate amount of mulch.
Best Companion Plants for Canterbury Bells
When choosing companion plants for C. medium, look for varieties that thrive in the same conditions: moist, rich soil, cooler temperatures, and dappled light to partial shade.
Good companion plantings may include perennials such as phlox, violets, lamb’s ear, Lady’s mantle, columbine, and roses if you’re creating a cottage garden. Tiny epimedium can thrive in the shady spots under Canterbury bells while climbing hydrangea provides a perfect cool-toned backdrop.
Creative Uses for Canterbury Bells
Canterbury bells are a beloved and traditional component of English cottage gardens. These lush, romantic landscapes evolved in the 18th century as a response to the more formal, symmetrical garden design that was favored by the upper class.
Instead of flowers planted in straight rows and shrubs neatly trimmed into rigid form, cottage gardens overflow with color, shape, and size in a mimicry of the profusion found in natural landscapes. In such settings, Canterbury bells offer upright splashes of cool colors.
Their two to three-foot height makes them a perfect choice for the middle of the flower bed or border. They look lovely with other traditional cottage flowers such as hollyhocks, delphiniums, peonies, foxglove, and lavender.
In floral arrangements, Canterbury bells add visual interest and a lovely fragrance that can be described as sweet and a bit minty. Their tall panicles stand out in a bouquet or vase. The cut flowers will stay fresh for seven to 10 days as long as the water is changed regularly and they’re kept out of sunny, drafty spots.
Canterbury Bells Flower Crafts
Canterbury bells are easy to press. Cut the cup-shaped blooms, removing as much stem as you can. Then flatten the blooms, starting at the base and working up.
Place blossoms between two sheets of paper towels and shape the flowers. Then place the towels inside a book or flower press. Leave them in place for about a month, then check weekly until they’re fully dry.
Canterbury Bells FAQs:
How long do Canterbury Bells bloom for?
Canterbury bells bloom from late spring through summer.
What is the ideal climate for growing Canterbury Bells?
The plants grow in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8. They prefer cooler temperatures and dislike heat and humidity.
Can Canterbury Bells grow in containers or indoors?
You can grow Canterbury bells in containers as long as they’re well-draining. You can start seeds indoors, but the plants should be moved outside in spring.
How often should I water my Canterbury Bells?
Canterbury bells prefer moist, well-drained soil. Water regularly, but avoid overwatering, and don’t let soil get soggy.
When is the best time of year to plant Canterbury Bells?
Plant Canterbury bells seedlings in the ground after the danger of frost has passed. Sow seeds outdoors in late spring or early summer and indoors in late winter.
How can I protect my Canterbury Bells from pests and diseases?
Ensure plants aren’t overcrowded, as adequate airflow is key to preventing disease. Avoid overwatering, as it can lead to root rot.
How can I extend Canterbury Bells’ lifespan after being cut?
Change water frequently. Keep flowers away from heat sources, direct sun, and drafts.
Canterbury bells have long been beloved for their panicles of distinctive, bell-shaped blossoms atop upright stems. These summer blooming biennials fill the cottage garden with cool shades of blue, purple, pink, and white and are easy to care for. In floriography, a gift of Canterbury bells sends a message of gratitude and support.
Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.