Imagine: I walked into Soares Flower Garden Nursery a couple of years ago, and stopped in my tracks. There they were, six packs of bells of Ireland plants, clearly started by my friend Marcia Chapman and the staff at Soares. It’s not an annual that’s available at most garden centers…probably because when they are young they don’t resemble what they will grow into later in the summer. So it takes someone interested in horticulture to think about growing these as seedlings and offering them for sale. Thank goodness for plant geeks…they keep the good stuff, the magical plants, available for our gardens.
Name: Bells of Ireland, aka Moluccella laevis
Type of Plant: A cool weather annual, so perfect for the Cape and Islands. This is a great flower for cutting and when they are a bit older, good for drying as well.
Why I Love this plant: This member of the mint family has become one of my “party crashers” in that it self-seeds and shows up for the garden party, invited or not. The true flowers are small but it’s the green calyces that capture our attention and hearts.
A Word to the Wise: Plant these in an area with well drained soil and full to part sun. If you want tall cutting flowers and are growing these for the farmer’s market, stake them and support them from when they are about 10 inches tall. But if you’re a more relaxed gardener who isn’t concerned how tall or straight the stems are, let them grow as is. If you want them to self seed, leave old plants in the garden through fall, and water weekly from late April on if it doesn’t rain.
If you live in a place that gets really hot and humid in the summer, this would either be a very early spring annual for you or one that will leave you frustrated. But if you live near the sea, where the coolish weather extends into July, this is a great annual for you. Start seeds by sprinkling them on top of the soil or growing media. Although the seeds germinate better if on a seed sowing heating mat, once they have started to grow, remove them from that heat. If possible, start Moluccella laevis seeds in taller pots and transplant them early so as not to disturb the tap roots too much.
When they are happy, this annual will become one of your party crashers too.