Life of the party

Campanula lactiflora (upper right) in the North Garden horseshoe in late JuneSome plants provide entertainment for the whole season and others just don’t and I sometimes have to try very hard to remember why we give clunkers space in the gardens. Campanula lactiflora or Milky bellflower is one of those plants – winner of the Most Likely to Leave the Party Early superlative. Campanula lactiflora at the end of AugustWe have a sizable clump in a prominent spot right at the corner of the North Garden horseshoe and there’s no doubt that its reaching french-blue blooms get plenty of comments and compliments at the end of June and a little bit into July. But as soon as the flowers shrivel and turn brown from the top down, the foliage starts to go south too and that’s why I think it’s a clunker – and a party pooper.

Last week Gail and I shared our annual indecision over whether it’s better to leave the dried and skrunky sticks so at least it looks like there was a there there versus cutting it back, leaving a giant hole. We always opt to cut it back. Baptisia v. Campanula - there's no comparisonWhat would you do? Right next to that clump, in party-on contrast, is another enormous clump of a plant that also only blooms for a nanosecond in June but hangs out in the garden telling jokes all season long. Is there anything better than Baptisia australis (False indigo) with its sturdy ever-blue foliage and dramatic black seed pods? Actually, I’m seriously asking because I would love to take out the campanula and replace it with something else that will stay to the end in bloom and out. What can you recommend that’s around 3-4′ tall with a blue or yellow flower that blooms in late June and has good looking foliage from May to at least October — besides amsonia?

The North Garden horseshoe in late Junea North Garden corner - campanula and baptisia duke it out for best in the backrow

I think there must be a place for the introverted campanula. I don’t want to rule it out entirely because the blooms are such a sublime color. But it’s the sort of plant that requires careful placement to ensure that it’s completely hidden by something else by the middle of July. (Unfortunately ours is not only not hidden but fronted by an equally disastrous and hole producing blighted peony…) But if there’s another plant in the world with extrovert virtues that include a long season of interest like baptisia (and amsonia), I’d trade the campanula (and the peony) for it in a nanosecond.

Who’s the life of the party in your garden? Do you have any poopers?