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Sapphire spheroids attack garden


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There’s never enough blue in the garden, as far as I’m concerned. Others must feel the same way: otherwise, why do we make such a fuss over giant blue delphiniums, gentians and meconopsis? The far flung and varied clan of Campanula are among the most giving of blues in the garden. In this vast and (in my opinion) terribly underappreciated family, there are some strange creatures, none stranger or more beautiful than a late summer blooming campanula cousin from the mountains of Northern Greece and the Balkans called Trachelium rumelianum or T. jacquinii v. rumelianum. You may wonder what the common name is. This plant is frankly so rare and little known in cultivation that I don’t think it’s ever had a common name coined. I’m tempted to call it sapphire sphereflower because the blooms are spheres, and many approach sapphire in their brilliant coloration.

Right now this rather unusual plant is putting on a stellar show on the north side of what we used to call the Alpine House, and now is the Cactus and Succulent House, on the west side of the Rock Alpine Garden. In nature, this strange campanula relative invariably grows in the tiny crevices of limestone cliffs. Botanists describe plants that must grow in rocks as “obligate chasmophytes”: i.e. they are “obliged” to grow (phyte) on chasms. Due to the dry air and relative lack of rain in Colorado, we are often able to grow chasmophytes successfully in open soil, even on level ground. From the picture you can see that the Trachelium loves the steep slope and good drainage of the north facing slope where it’s growing. It has in fact produced dozens of seedlings which Mike Kintgen, who oversees the Rock Alpine Garden, judiciously improves by removing pale flowered individuals. The hundreds of luminescent blossoms, nearly two inches across, last much of the month of August. They make fine boon companions to a random seedling of orange butterfly weed in their midst, and the magenta of hardy Pelargonium (P. endlicherianum) nearby.

I do not know a single commercial source for this plant at the present time: our plants do produce abundant seed, and some of the local rare plant nurseries have been experimenting with them, and I hope that it might one day be sold at Denver Botanic Gardens Spring Plant Sale. There are literally thousands of kinds of plants blooming at Denver Botanic Gardens right now, and this one may be one of my two thousand, five hundred and eighty-nine favorites. I, for one, could use a little more blue in my garden.


Anne Spiegel

OK, Panayoti. You win, hands down. You are definitely my favorite "alliterator". Sapphire spheroids, wow! The plant is a wow too. Too bad it's not available to try from seed, it makes a spectacular show. Please post some more of your 2,500+ favorites.
Ernie DeMarie

Hi Panayoti, Welcome to the blogosphere! A really cool plant, as I would expect from you. Hope to see a lot more posts from you.
Panayoti Kelaidis

Great to hear from my two New York buddies: glad you guys finally sent us some rain! I suspect Trachelium would love your magnificent Dutchess County rock, Ann. And, Ernie, I hope you noticed the Pelly. Great to hear from both of you.
Barbara van Ach...

This delightful plant looks like it might produce bountiful seed. Hope you will send some to the NARGS seed exchange for us Easterners and people out of the US to try. Panayoti. If it doesn't set seed, I hope that divisions will be available by mail order.
Phyllis Gustafson

Panayoti, I'm so glad that you love this plant as much as I do. I have a friend who grows hundreds of alpine/rock plants each year and sells them to the rest of us lazy bums for next to nothing. I got this from her two or three years ago. It bloomed here in Southern Oregon much earlier but how I love it. I NEED more, guess I'll go to her fall sale this next month and try to pick up more for my new hottest yet garden. Love your site,Keep on posting, Phyllis Gustafson

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