The Canterbury bell is one of the most popular ornamental plant in the world. They are used in many different ways from decorating windowsills to making music boxes. There are over 1 million varieties of these beautiful flowers which have been cultivated since ancient times. Canterbury bells are not native to North America but were introduced here during the 17th century when they were brought by English settlers who had settled in New England.
Canterbury bells are a member of the lily family. Lilies (genus Vinca) are perennial flowering plants with long stems and small white or pink flowers. The genus includes about 250 species worldwide, including some of the most common garden plants such as tulips, daisies, marigolds and pansies.
Canterbury bells belong to the group known as “lilacs” because their leaves resemble those of lilac trees.
How To Deadhead Canterbury Bells?
In order to successfully deadhead canterbury bells, it is necessary to know the correct way of doing so. The best time of year to deadhead canterbury bells is springtime when they bloom. However, if you live in a colder climate then springtime might not be the right season for them. You might need to deadhead your canterbury bells in the autumn. If this is the case then you should wait until about a month after the first frost has hit. Deadheading canterbury bells is a very easy and simple process. All you have to do is locate any spent flowers on your canterbury bells. Once you have found them, use pruning shears to cut them off just above soil level.
Does Canterbury Bells Come Back Every Year?
Yes, canterbury bells do come back every year. If you wish you can deadhead your canterbury bells every year to help them re-bloom every spring, but it isn’t necessary. If you don’t deadhead your canterbury bells and allow them to flower, they will die back in the winter. The following spring they will sprout fresh green growth and flowers again.
Canterbury Bells Poisonous
Yes, canterbury bells are poisonous. They contain alkaloids known as Convallatoxin and Convallamarine. These can cause nausea, lack of muscle control and even paralysis if enough is ingested.
If you live with someone who has a habit of eating toxic plants then make sure they do not have any access to the canterbury bells in your garden. Most cases of plant poisoning involve children so be on your guard.
Canterbury Bells Smell
If you cut or damage your canterbury bells they will release a distinctive smell. The reason for this is to deter predators from eating them or their leaves. The scent released is very strong and unpleasant and lingers in the area for quite some time.
You might notice a scent when you handle your canterbury bells but it shouldn’t be overwhelming or unpleasant. If it is then you should discard the plants because they have been damaged.
How To Properly Care For Your Canterbury Bells
Canterbury bells are low maintenance plants. They thrive and grow best in damp or wet soil, but they can also grow in dry conditions. If you live in a hotter or drier climate then you will most likely need to water your canterbury bells every couple of days during the peak of summer.
If you water them every day this is not necessary.
Canterbury bells are also easily damaged by extreme temperatures. They won’t survive a frost or freezing temperatures so make sure you don’t position them in areas that experience these low temperatures.
The soil in which you plant your canterbury bells is very important too. You need to make sure you plant in well-draining soil. This means the soil contains a lot of organic matter such as peat moss, compost or leaf mold.
You should also make sure you plant your canterbury bells in soil that contains plenty of room for them to spread out. If the soil is compacted then the roots will not be able to grow and your canterbury bells will suffer for it.
If you live in an area where canterbury bells naturally grow and you want to increase your stock, you can divide the plants or seed them. Dividing the plants is a simple process of digging up the entire clump and then replanting the clump elsewhere. With this method some of the original root system will still remain in the original clump so it isn’t ideal, but it does help to increase the number of canterbury bells you have.
Seeding is only recommended for people who know how to save and correctly sow seeds because not all of them will successfully sprout. Collect the seeds from the flowers when they have naturally dropped to the ground. Some plants will have light brown colored seeds while others will be dark.
You can save both types but you need to store them correctly so they don’t all sprout at the same time.
The easiest way to do this is to place a small amount of the dried seed into a sealed container such as a pill bottle and add just enough chlorine-free tap water to cover them. Screw the top on and shake vigorously for a minute. After this let the container sit undisturbed at room temperature for about four to six weeks.
If any seeds have not swollen or sprouted then repeat the process with fresh water and shaking. As soon as you see one seed swelling dump out the water and spread the seeds evenly over the surface of some compost in a container or tray. Keep them lightly moist, but not wet and at room temperature. If you store them in a refrigerator, they will all sprout within a few days.
Now you just need to wait for them to grow. As soon as they have at least two sets of leaves and are big enough to be handled you can transplant them into individual containers or your garden. You can also plant the seeds right into your garden but this is more time consuming and the germination rate will be lower because birds and other creatures will eat some of them.
Where To Find Your Canterbury Bells
Canterbury bells do not grow wild in many areas. The wild varieties are all in Australia. The most popular being the Chorozem Bells which are also known as Red or Yellow Sand Bells and the Karoo Bells which are also known as Pink or Purple Sand Bells.
You can sometimes find them for sale at your local nursery.
If you can’t find them locally, you might have better luck searching online. At the time of this writing, one website offers them for sale here.
You can grow the plants outdoors or in containers as long as you have a spot that is sunny during the day. They also like well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter in it. Plant them in early spring and if you live an area where your winter temperatures go below freezing, then you should protect the plants with either an overhead canopy or some type of covering for the soil such as mulch.
You can also grow your canterbury bells completely indoors. They do need at least three or more hours of sunlight a day though or their leaves will become distorted. If you have some already growing in your yard, you can dig them up and bring them inside for the winter.
Be sure to keep the soil ball intact when you dig them up so you don’t rip out the roots. Re-pot them into a container that has good drainage. Keep them lightly moist and place them in a sunny window.
Canterbury bells typically only last for one flowering season so you do need to get them while they are in bloom if you want to enjoy their flowers. The flowers start out being pink but turn darker as they reach full maturity. They have a sweet fragrance and very pretty.
If you want the flowers to keep their scent, pick the flowers right before they are fully open and place them in a container of water. Place them in a cool location away from direct sunlight and they should last about a week.
Canterbury bells are poisonous to both humans and animals so keep them out of the reach of little hands and paws that might try to eat them. Also, if you have any pets that like to dig, be careful because they may try to dig up your plants.
Growing canterbury bells is a great project for children. It is educational and easy enough for kids to do with your supervision. Your children will enjoy watching the flowers turn from pink to red as they reach maturity and then they can help you replant them or give them to someone special.
Sources & references used in this article:
Characterization of fatty acids, bioactive lipids, and radical scavenging activity of Canterbury bells seed oil by MFR Hassanien, H El-Shamy… – Grasas y …, 2014 – grasasyaceites.revistas.csic.es
Solid matrix priming hastens Canterbury Bells seed germination by TL Bosma, JC Cole, KE Conway, JM Dole – HortTechnology, 2002 – journals.ashs.org
Selective accumulation of delphinidin derivatives in tobacco using a putative flavonoid 3′, 5′-hydroxylase cDNA from Campanula medium by Y Okinaka, Y Shimada, R Nakano-Shimada… – Bioscience …, 2003 – jstage.jst.go.jp
III. Notes on Cuckoo-flowers and the Cuckoo-spit by J Hardy – Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 1863 – Taylor & Francis
Plants and their environment (2007) by M Kroening, D Trinklein, D Schrock – 2007 – mospace.umsystem.edu
Lower Mesozoic plant fossils from Black Jacks, Waitaki River, South Canterbury by S Bell, HJ Harrington, IC McKellar – Trans. R. Soc. NZ, 1956 – rsnz.natlib.govt.nz