Plant of the Month: Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’

Campanula lactiflora 'Pritchard's Variety' photo courtesy of Plant World Seeds

Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ photo courtesy of Plant World Seeds

Campanula comes from the Latin word for “bell”, and campanulas all have bell-shaped flowers, although the flower forms vary considerably. My favorite campanulas are the lactifloras for their tubular, star-shaped, upward-facing   flowers.  Lactiflora means “milky flower”, but most of the lactifloras are either lavender or blue-lavender. The best of the lactifloras, in my opinion, is ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ for its long bloom time, stately presence and deep lavender color. The Royal Horticultural Society also admires ‘Pritchard’s Variety’, having granted the plant an Award of Garden Merit.

If you glance around the web for photos of Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’, you will notice a substantial variation in flower color. One reason for these differences, undoubtedly, is that blues and lavenders are extremely difficult colors to reproduce accurately in photographs. Another reason, however, is that not every plant sold as ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ is the true hybrid. (This also used to be a problem when purchasing Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, more commonly known as Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’. I don’t know if this is still the case.) ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ is readily available in the EU–especially in the UK–but it’s not as easy to locate in North America. In Illinois, you can find ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ at Blumen Gardens in Sycamore, and, in Wisconsin, at The Flower Factory in Stoughton (near Madison). Other retailers are located around the country; they are generally specialty or high-end nurseries. For plants by mail in the U.S., try Lazy S’S Farm Nursery. Although I’ve selected a photo from a seed company to illustrate the plant’s form and true color, since ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ is a hybrid, you won’t get an accurate reproduction from seed–only from division or cuttings.

Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ has an upright habit and crisp, deep green, lance-shaped leaves. The plant varies in height from 30″ to 48″ (76 cm-122 cm), although, in our zones, 30″ is more common. Bloom occurs from mid-June to mid-August. For best color, plant in a location with light shade or else only half a day of sun.

A soil pH of 5.0-7.0 works well, and the soil should receive consistent moisture (an inch of water per week is fine). Most importantly, lactifloras require excellent drainage. Sandy loam is ideal. If you have heavy soil, consider a raised bed for the campanula or else double dig the planting location, making the new soil as friable as possible. After double digging, you should be able to dig down two feet with just a trowel.

In spite of its height, ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ doesn’t need staking unless planted in a windy area or unless it’s over-fertilized. Go light on the nitrogen, and preferably use a weak, organic, balanced fertilizer. To keep the plant strong and bushy, you can prune it back in early spring. It should also be deadheaded after flowering to prevent self-seeding.

Four other varieties of Campanula lactiflora are available for gardeners who need colors other than the deep lavender of ‘Pritchard’s Variety’:

• ‘Loddon Anna’:  Similar in all respects to ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ but has pale lilac-pink flowers

 ‘Gloaming’:  Available exclusively from Blooms of Bressingham, the plant has light blue flowers

• ‘Border Blue’:  An introduction from Ball Horticultural with a deeper color than ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ and requiring partial shade. Commercial availability unknown.

• ‘Avalanche’:  A white-flowered variety available exclusively from Blooms of Bressingham for EU residents only

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