Let the Bells of Ireland Sing!

Ever mistaken a desired flower for a weed?  I have a bit of a story to tell regarding  Moluccella laevis a.k.a. ‘Bells of Ireland’.  Just in case you are not familiar with ‘Bells of Ireland’ it is an annual plant producing beautiful light green flowers, shaped like bells, on strong sturdy stems.

‘Bells of Ireland’ are used in floral arrangements and this is how I became familiar with them …hence my story…

Six years ago, I ordered some ‘Bells of Ireland’ seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  I was living in Pennsylvania at the time and had decided to start all my vegetables and some “cutting”  flowers from seed.  I saw “Bells of Ireland”  in the catalog, remembered how beautiful they were and decided they were a must-have for summer flower arrangements I would make.  I also ordered a number of tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, herbs, etc… and as so easily happens I ran out of time and did not get the ‘Bells of Ireland’ started that year.  I didn’t even open the seed packet!

You all  know how fast life flows, time goes by quickly and sometimes, some things don’t get carried forth…Well, last spring (2010) after five years and two big moves, I found my ‘Bells of Ireland’ seeds and decided why not throw some in my raised planters.  I still had never grown this annual but I knew it would be stunning in arrangements. I had the seeds so why not give it a whirl right?  I planted some and nothing happened, or so I thought at the time.

O.K., fast forward to this spring, (2011) and I’ve once again decided to grow many things from seed.  I find the ‘Bells of Ireland’ seed packet again and decide again to give them a try by planting some in my raised planters.

By the way, I have also found my left over tomato, lettuce and basil seeds from Johnny’s (now six years old) and decide to try growing them too.  They sprout wonderfully and I am happy to share that all but two of the tomatoes I’m growing this year came from old Johnny’s seeds that were not stored in any special environment.  Unless you consider a really cold and really hot garage (seasonally) a special storage environment!

Back to the Bells…As the spring continues, I plant my tiny vegetables starts in the raised planters along with a variety of seeds and from time to time I see a weed or two growing in the raised planter.  I promptly pull the weed to keep the beds pristine for my produce.

One day as I was about to pull a particularly healthy looking weed, something in my brain told me to STOP!  Stopping to think for just a split second before pulling made me realize this ‘weed’ looked different from all the others and was particularly healthy and vigorous.  Another second and I somehow recollected a faint memory of this “weed” last spring in the raised planters but nowhere else.

So I forced myself to leave the ‘weed’ alone to see what it might become.  I say forced because leaving this ‘unknown’ to grow was a bit harder than it should have been.  I have a thing about the raised beds being pristine and remember this was at the beginning of the season when hopes, goals and energy are maximized!

As spring evolved the seeds sprouted, the starts grew and the planter began to fill in.  The ‘weed’ also grew.  I resisted the urge to’ just pull it’ several times.  I felt the space it was taking was needed for my kale and beets and I didn’t like the look of having a huge weed growing in my raised planter with my other highly revered edibles.

Then one day after some rains and higher than normal levels of humidity I went out to the garden and spotted something I wasn’t expecting…The ‘Bells of Ireland’ had arrived!

The “weed” had grown tremendously over the last couple of days and amongst the mass of round foliage leaves were large spires and on those spires behind the round leaves were light green, bell-shaped flowers!

My intuition to not pull the plant had guided me well!  This “weed” was actually the “Bells of Ireland” plant that I wanted for arrangements for all those years!

I could see the bells so clearly now but beforehand had no idea of what to look for or what I was looking at!  Needless to say, I have finally been able to enjoy the “Bells of Ireland” I ordered so many years ago…It’s times like these that can make a gardener’ heart sing!

Do you have a funny plant story?  If so, please take a minute and share…

P.S.  Just in case anyone else is interested in growing ‘Bells of Ireland’ they seem to be very easy to grow with regular water and well-draining soil.  The plants get large offering many spires of bell-shaped flowers.  One must remove the round leaves covering the “bells” to get the final effect.  Be careful and wear gloves removing the foliage because the spires are covered with prickles that seem soft but are actually very sharp.  I have also read they self-seed freely but I do not have first-hand experience with this part of their cultivation.

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