Cottage Garden Favorites: Bells of Ireland
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.
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.
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© 2014 Caren White