Dear Readers, how could I resist this splendid display of Dalmatian Bellflower, tumbling over an original Victorian tiled path? There are actually two types of Bellflower that have made themselves at home in North London and other parts: this one from the Dalmatian mountains of Croatia, and the one below, Serbian Bellflower, from the Dinaric Alps in Serbia. As you can see, both are Alpine plants, very at home in cracks and crevices, and every bit as pretty as anything you could buy in the garden centre. The Dalmatian species is less pointy, more deeply coloured and a bit more vigorous, while the Serbian plant is a delicate little star-shaped thing. I love them both, although they don’t seem to attract quite as many bees as you might expect (in spite of what I might have thought in my original piece). Still, they help to cover the most unlikely places with greenery, and that makes them welcome in my book.
Botanists know them as ‘port and posh’ after their Latin names, which is certainly less of a mouthful than their full species designation.
Here’s what I had to say in my original post, back when we were all young and enthusiastic back in 2014.
When I am exploring the half-mile around my house, I am regularly surprised by some new plant that I haven’t noticed before. This week, however, I found a whole new lane that I’d not stumbled across previously, leading from Baronsmere Road to Cherry Tree Wood.
In this weedy little track, with garden sheds and walls on either side, I found this patch of Trailing Bellflower, with its lilac-blue flowers enhanced by perfect raindrops.
Trailing Bellflower comes from the Dinaric Alps – these are the parts of the Alps that were part of the former Yugoslavia, and you can sometimes see the plant referred to as Serbian Bellflower. As we’ve seen before, mountain plants, with their tolerance of poor, thin soil, often do very well in urban environments. This plant is a relatively recent introduction – it first came to the UK in 1931, and was first recorded in the wild in 1957.
Isn’t it funny how, once you’ve noticed something, you see it everywhere? On a trip to Tufnell Park, I found a patch of Trailing Bellflower peeping out from amongst the ivy.
The name ‘Bellflower’ doesn’t seem very appropriate for this plant – ‘Starflower’ seems more descriptive of those five-petalled blooms. However, in the photo below, you can see a stem with two flowers on it on the right hand side. Viewed from here, the flowers look like hats for fairies.
There seems to be some debate as to whether Trailing Bellflower is palatable or not. On the lovely website Plants for a Future the leaves are described as ‘a little tough’, but the flowers ‘have a pleasant sweet flavour and make a decorative addition to the salad bowl‘. They would certainly look very pretty nestled amongst some winter leaves. However, as this is a popular plant with pollinators, and as it flowers later than most, I would be inclined to leave most of the flowers where they belong.
As I left the lane, I spotted another patch of Trailing Bellflower, which had made itself at home amongst the stone stairs of an impressive entrance:
As I was standing there, an elderly gentleman paused to let me take my photograph.
“Are you interested in Victorian architecture?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “but today I’m more interested in the plants”. With a burst of enthusiasm, I explained that this was Trailing Bellflower, and told him probably more than he either wanted or needed to know about the habits, history and ecology of the plant.
He shook his head, a little sadly I thought.
“I see them,” he said, “but I don’t know any of the names”.
You don’t have to know the name of something to appreciate it – in fact, sometimes the urge to identify what a plant or animal is can get in the way of really looking at what you’re seeing. But being able to put a name to a Trailing Bellflower does add a depth, a way of seeing plants both individually and as part of an ecosystem. In fact, my walks to the greengrocer are often now something of a mantra.
“Chickweed, groundsel, shepherd’s purse.
Yellow corydalis, green alkanet, dandelion.
Trailing bellflower, nettle, feverfew.