Campanula x stansfieldii
According to Farrer ‘The English Rock Garden’ 1918 “Campanula x stansfieldii is a gift of Heaven and its history is wrapped in a cloud.”
This very old hybrid has been reported as a chance garden seedling in 1894. It’s parentage is problematical and variously ascribed to C. carpatica x C. waldsteiniana or C. carpatica x C. tommasiniana whilst Farrer puts forward C. tommasiniana and C. waldsteiniana or possibly C. pulla “occurring as they do at one point on common ground on Monte Maggiore.”
This wonderful plant spreads slowly to form a mat of hairy leaves with 10cm stems topped by wide, shallow deep violet bells, which are semi-pendent and with corolla lobes divided to about one third their depth and well reflexed.
Clifford Crook writes that propagation may be achieved thus “spring cuttings root without difficulty or the plant may be divided as growth is beginning.” Farrer that it “is a treasure of the highest claims, and is of the easiest culture in open limy soil.” We have found it to be an unfussy plant, which has taken 6 or 7 years to fill a 26cm pan. The compost is 2/3 John Innes No.2, 1/3 grit and a few limestone chippings. It flowers profusely in midsummer and Trevor Jukes mentions it for July 15th in an article entitled “All the Year Round” in Volume 20 of the bulletin.
Having had some success with this plant on the show bench we were curious to know more about Stansfield for whom the plant was named. Initially we drew a blank. On a visit to Southport to scout out the AGS show venue we had a stroll in Hesketh Park. An information board made mention of a Rock Garden and there we found a plaque to the effect that a Mr. W. H. Stansfield had financed the rock garden in 1932, now sadly very overgrown and unrecognisable. We thought this an interesting coincidence but little more, however more research turned up ‘The Garden of Bellflowers’ by L. H. Bailey who states that C. x stansfieldii was found in the garden of W. H. Stansfield, Southport, England.
He died aged 83 in 1934 and his obituary in ‘The Gardeners’ Chronicle’ was written by Ingwersen. He was a Town Councillor in Southport, a self-trained botanist who wrote ‘Nature Notes’ in the Manchester Guardian. He was President of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Natural History Society. The “Kew Garden Nurseries’ Southport which he developed and ran “was well known for the fine collection of hardy and alpine plants they contained..” “Indeed Farrer appreciated Stansfield as highly as I and wrote of him in one of his books as ‘That Potent Gardener’.”
It is a wonderful and useful plant that should be grown more widely.
My thanks to the following for help with research: Jill Larner, Rod Leeds, Vic Aspland and the RHS Lindley Library.