Peach-Leaf Bellflower: Garden Enemy #2

I was out in the garden on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, doing what I expected to be routine cleanup — cutting down old perennial stalks, removing the odd overgrown specimen, etc. But I realized I had a bigger problem on my hands — peach-leaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia), entrenched and spreading all over one of my sunnier and tree-root-free perennial beds. A planting of variegated irises and a specimen of Eryngium yuccifolium were threatened with oblivion as the peach-leaf pest sent out new offsets and and an ever-thickening mat of roots.

I happily included this plant in my post called Tough Plants for Dry Shade, and I still think it belongs there, but now I issue a warning:  do not plant Campanula persicifolia in places other than dry shade, especially if you garden on light, sandy soil. In hospitable, sunny spots, it becomes a rampant thug. Plant delphiniums there instead.

In a hasty attempt to get rid of the unwanted bellflowers, I went from hand-pulling (useless except for seedlings or brand-new offsets), to stabbing with a trowel, to deploying the gardener’s big gun — a digging fork. That did the trick, except that I dug up a bunch of tulip and crocus bulbs along with the bellflower mats, and, worst of all, sliced off a nice hyacinth bud that was awaiting spring under the soil surface.

That’s the really awful thing about spreading plants — they cover up other plants and, unless the gardener has a really good memory and/or really meticulous records, render them invisible. The busy gardener glances over a bed and sees nice, healthy plants of peach-leaf bellflower, totally forgetting about the irises, eryngiums and bulbs that were planted there in the first place. When the truth finally dawns and Something Must Be Done Right Now, havoc and destruction ensue.

Some may say I’m being unfair to Campanula persicifolia. Just because I was too lazy to keep an eye on things, I need not vilify the bellflower, which is an attractive and reliable plant. Maybe so, but gardeners should know about a plant’s bad habits before they introduce it into their premises, so I think this screed is justified. (And of course I’m still upset about that hyacinth).

On a related topic, following my post on Plant ID, in which I made observations about different kinds of plant labels, I actually received as a Christmas gift a couple of dozen rather nice permanent metal labels with solid plastic stakes to hold and display them. I’ve decided to use them to mark valued plants that are at risk of being overwhelmed by the rambunctious “tough plants” that I have allowed to proliferate here. The idea is that the labels will remind me to check on the well-being of the plants they represent, thus ensuring that the markers will not be of the RIP sort.

Oh yes — and what is Garden Enemy #1? In my garden, it’s those maple trees, of course. I’ve ranted about them before, and will likely do so again.

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8 comments

  1. Goodness me I guess it is a matter of opinion I love my bellflower plants as I do anything that grows I do not consider anything an ENEMY be it dandelion or Goat weed Relax what is your problem.

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    1. Hi Andrea,
      I’m glad you love your bellflowers. In the right place, I like them too. It all depends on the situation. One gardener’s pest is another’s paragon of perfection.
      As for “enemy,” well, that bit of creative exaggeration got your attention, didn’t it?
      Thanks for commenting, and G.I.P. (garden in peace).
      Audrey

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  2. Thank you so much for this helpful warning, Audrey! I’ve had a few plants that I bought months ago still in pots waiting to be planted. I first had to dig up a number of plants and shrubs that, of course, had grown too large for the areas they were in and finally just completed that task.

    You just saved me a great deal of time ahead of time!! I will be planting the Peach Leaf Bellflower somewhere on the other side of my barn where it can have free reign AWAY from plants that are in my ‘planned’ gardens. (I read a similar warning on another site.) Whew!! I’m glad I researched before I leaped. What did I ever do before google???

    Your words of wisdom greatly appreciated. I’ve got to learn not to love and leap when I’m garden nurseries!
    Paula

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  3. Back when I lived in Minnesota, the elms would drop gazillions of seeds, and they could sprout carpets of little elms. The irony of it was that the elms were dying and we’d have all loved to save them from Dutch elm disease–and at the same time the little *%&(&(^%%$£ drove us nuts and we couldn’t pull them out fast enough.

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  4. Hi Audrey,

    Thanks and so happy that i have come across your article. Bellflowers are selling right now at the home depot so….

    Given how agrressive and tough bellflowers are, do you think they can invade and push out an ugly weeded area of my garden right underneath a cluster of trees (shaded area) if i introduce the bellflowers there? Id rather see bellflowers than weed overgrowths.

    Also will bellflower seeds/ pollen be able to transport or cross over to the other side of my garden (by any means like wind/ water) where i have my preciouses (prized flowers) if i plant them across by the shaded weeded tree areas in an attempt to push out the weeds (from my first question)?

    Thanks so much and heavily weighing my options before starting anything to do with bellflowers

    Fred

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    1. I think it’s definitely worth a try to introduce peach-leaved bellflower into a shady area under trees. Mine do quite well in just such locations. I’m not sure how the seeds are distributed. The plants produce a lot of them if not deadheaded, and the seeds are tiny, so it’s possible they will make their way to the other side of the garden. You would have to keep an eye out for seedlings and remove them before they get established. That should work, because they don’t start to spread by sending out roots until a clump is well established. And don’t forget — we’re talking Campanula persicifolia here. Be careful you don’t end up with Campanula rapunculoides, which is pretty much impossible to get rid of and spreads relentlessly.

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