Million Bells

million bells (Calibrachoa 'Superbells Scarlet')million bells (Calibrachoa x hybrida)Everyone seems to have a weakness for bellflowers. These small pink, blue and white flowers spill beautifully over a terra cotta pot, or bloom nicely in small flower beds.
Calibrachoa (Cali-BRACK-oa) is one amazing bellflower plant. Its hybrid cultivars have been dubbed “Million Bells” and “Lirica Shower” by the nursery trade. Available in San Fernando Valley nurseries for about two years, Calibrachoa has proven itself both in the garden bed and as a container plant. It likes sun but must also be kept moderately moist. And it flowers in relentless profusion for months on end. Fertilize it monthly if you grow it in the ground and every other week if you keep it in a container.
Almost 200 years ago, Calibrachoa was introduced to European greenhouses from South America along with the petunia, to which it is closely related. However, because of its small flowers, Calibrachoa was long neglected by plant breeders in favor of the petunia with its larger blooms. In addition, Calibrachoa’s propagation was difficult since it produced few seeds, though that problem has now been solved thanks to the Japanese and their commercial utilization of new propagation techniques.
In recent years, a sudden craving for plants with small flowers has developed, a reflection of increased interest in container plants for patios and balconies. Small-flowered plants are of limited interest in the garden because of their low visibility. A garden, after all, especially in the front yard, is not just a personal plant collection, but a community asset as well; a device for sharing horticultural beauty not only with neighbors but with strangers who are just passing by.
Where containers are concerned, the criteria for plant selection change. Here, the considerations are more private. You are going to be looking at and caring for the plants in this terra cotta pot, whiskey barrel or redwood box every day. You will see these plants up close and will have time to study them in fine detail. Whereas in the garden, bigger often seems to be better as you grow giant dahlias in the sun and steamy tropicals with elephant ear foliage in the shade, you will probably be equally content, when it comes to containers, to choose plants with small flowers and delicate, feathery or pinnate leaves.
The classic bellflowers belong to the Campanula genus, which is not a coincidence since “campanulate” is the botanical term for bell-shaped flowers. The Serbian bellflower (Campanula Poscharskyana) is a popular ground cover with flowers in lavender or white. It is well suited to containers and hanging baskets because of its trailing growth habit and its prolific, if less than brilliant, flowers. A common mistake is to use the Serbian bellflower as a ground cover in a large landscaped area. When planted in a large area, Serbian bellflower becomes invisible. It needs to be seen up close, in small flower beds next to an entry or in pots to be appreciated.
The plant with the most imposing bellflowers is known as Canterbury bells (Campanula Medium). Its blooms are two inches long and nearly as wide. Canterbury bells is a plant that, when you first lay eyes on it, makes you wonder whether it came from nature or from the artificial flower shop. It is the kind of plant to which children and others without gardening experience should be introduced as a means of stimulating horticultural interest.
< GARDENING TIP OF THE WEEK Thanks to a fair amount of rain this spring, home gardeners are finding their rose bushes in full bloom already and growing strong after a major pruning in January. Not to worry, says Karen Dardick, spokeswoman for Descanso Gardens. ``Roses are supposed to grow now.'' The folks at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge encourage healthy growth by cutting back blooms or deadheads to a stronger point on the stem, Dardick says. To do this, look for a five-leaflet node and cut just above it. ``If you think you have too many roses, share them with friends,'' Dardick suggests. For taller rose varieties, a second pruning can be done in summer. Wait until July or August, and then cut back bushes that are six to seven feet tall by about a third, Dardick says.

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