I think it was four years ago that I first planted bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis). I’d heard about this flower but I’d never seen it until I started doing floral design. Bells of Ireland are a favorite in the floral industry because they’re a long-lasting line flowers that can give some height and structure to an arrangement. Also the green color mixes well with other flowers.
When I decided to grow bells of Ireland in the garden I planted Pixie Bells, a bell variety that grows only 18-24″ tall. The standard bells of Ireland plant can get 3-4′ feet tall. I was really impressed with these flowers. The plants were well branched and since they weren’t too tall, they tended to stay upright without any support.
The only downside was that from a distance, they weren’t very interesting to look at. In the garden bed, bells of Ireland look like a plant that’s getting ready to flower but isn’t in bloom yet. Growing bells in the garden taught me that I love this flower, but I love it up-close where I can see its structure.
Bells of Ireland have an amazing flower structure. The inflorescence is spike shaped (called a raceme) with flowers all along the stem. The green “bell” isn’t a flower at all but fused sepals. Sepals (collectively called a calyx) are the green leaf-like structure that protect a developing blossom and extend from the base of the flower when it opens. Think of a rose bud – the five green structures that surround the bud and out of which the blossom emerges are the sepals.
In a rose, the sepals aren’t very showy but in bells of Ireland, the fused sepals are what most people would call the flower. But the true flower is found within the calyx. Before it opens it looks like a white dot; later it opens and looks, at least to my eye, like a tiny orchid blossom. These flowers only last for a day or two but the good news is that the fused sepals stay bright green for a long time.
After that first year of growing bells, I wasn’t sure if I’d grow them again. I like more color in the garden but I also knew I’d miss those interesting inflorescences. Well, nature made the decision for me. While bells of Ireland are annuals, they self-seed like crazy. The spring after having grown them in the garden I had little bells of Ireland plants popping up all over the flower bed. I let a few of them grow, enjoying the contrast in color and structure that they provided to the garden. And every year since I’ve always found plenty of bells of Ireland plants growing in the garden.
When the bells are in bloom, my favorite thing to do is cut a few of the spikes and bring them into the house. There I can appreciate the structure of these long-lasting cut flowers. Also when it’s hot outside, a vase of light lime-green bells of Ireland seems to make the whole house feel cooler.
That one packet of bells of Ireland seeds was one of the best purchased I’ve ever made – I planted them once and now I have them forever!