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Cottage Garden Favorites: Bells of Ireland

Updated on January 19, 2017
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


My first childhood garden featured green zinnias. For years, I thought that they were the only green flowers. Then I discovered Bells of Ireland, also known as Shell Flowers.


In spite of their name, Bells of Ireland are native to western Asia (Turkey and Syria). They have been growing in European gardens since the 16th century. Their green color prompted the reference to Ireland in the name which then led to them symbolizing luck in the language of flowers. The "bells" are actually green calyxes which surround their tiny white flowers.


Bells of Ireland are grown as annuals in all growing zones. Because of their origins, they grow best in areas with hot, dry summers. They do not do as well in humid areas. Give them full sun for the flower stalks to achieve their full height of 3 feet. They will be shorter in light shade. Plant them in a sheltered area where the wind cannot blow over the flower stalks. Alternatively, you can stake them. They bloom from mid-summer until the first frost.

The plant itself is about 12 inches high and 12 inches wide and not terribly attractive. Bells of Ireland work well planted in the rear of your garden where the flower stalks lend height, while their foliage will be screened by your other flowers.

Unlike most annuals, Bells of Ireland are not deadheaded. They do not rebloom once their flowers are removed. You leave the flowers on the plants so that they produce seed or you can harvest the flower stalks and use them fresh or dried in arrangements and craft projects.


Bells of Ireland are easy to grow from seed, but you must be patient. The seeds can take a month or more to germinate. You can speed that up by cold stratifying them. Put your seed packet in your refrigerator for 5 days prior to sowing them in your garden after your last frost. Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Don't cover them, they need light to germinate.

For earlier flowers, start your seeds indoors two months before your last frost. Surface sow as you would outdoors and be mindful of the length of time it will take them to germinate.

Other Uses

Bells of Ireland are frequently used in bridal bouquets, St. Patrick's Day flower arrangements and in dried arrangements. They are often grown in cutting gardens. The flowers will last up to two weeks in a vase. Alternatively, you can dry them by hanging them upside down in a cool, dry area where they will turn a light tan color.

© 2014 Caren White


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    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Bac, cold stratifying works for a number of plants, fooling them into thinking that winter has come and gone. People in the southern US use it on their spring flowering bulbs since their winters are not cold enough.

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 3 years ago from Spain

      These would serve the purpose as a good backdrop to a more showy plant. Nice tip about the cold stratifying.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      I've always been fascinated by green flowers. Thanks for reading.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Lovely! I love that there are green flowers. How interesting that they are native to Asia but named after Ireland for obvious reasons.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      You're so welcome. I'm glad that you can finally put a name to these wonderful flowers. Thank you for reading.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I love these and had no idea what they were called. Very interesting; than you. ^+