Bells of Ireland create garden drama

Tall spikes of apple-green bells make you stop and notice bells of Ireland Moluccella laevis). This annual has whorls of bell-shaped bracts and tiny cream-colored flowers in the center of each bell.

Its rounded leaves are pale green. Bells of Ireland is a unique bedding plant with its standout, green-only coloring, but it's also a stunning addition to both fresh and dried flower arrangements. It's native to western Asia, Turkey, Syria, and Caucasus, where it grows in fields and on stony slopes.

Plant Facts
Common name: Bells of Ireland, shell flower
Botanical name: Moluccella laevis
Plant type: Annual
Height: 24 to 36 inches
Spread: 9 inches
Family: Lamiaceae

Growing conditions
• Sun: Full sun is best, but it will tolerate partial shade
• Soil: Average soil with good drainage
• Moisture: Moderate

Care
• Mulch: None needed except to suppress weeds
• Pruning: None; may need staking
• Fertilizer: None

Propagation
Sow seed indoors in early spring or outside in late spring. Germination can be slow. To speed this up, seal seeds in a bag after sowing and leave in a refrigerator for 2 weeks. Then place the seeds in a warm spot (65°F to 70°F). Germination usually starts after 14 to 21 days. Harden off for 10 to 15 days before planting outside when all danger of frost is gone.

Pests and diseases
None significant

Garden notes
• The tall, green spikes add interest to a mixed annual border.
• Some sources say bells of Ireland is deer-resistant.
• Vase life for fresh flowers is 7 to 10 days.
• Flower spikes make interesting dried flowers. To dry them, pick a dry day when flowers are fully open, near their peak of maturity. Remove unnecessary foliage, and gather the stems into bunches. Wrap a rubber band or twine around the end of the stems and attach the bundle to a hook or hanger. Hang upside down in a dry, well-ventilated place for three to five weeks until they're entirely dry. As they dry, the flowers fade to cream or tan.

All in the family
The Lamiaceae family consists mostly of herbs or shrubs with aromatic leaves, four-sided stems, and flowers arranged in whorls. Mint (Mentha spp.), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides), and sages (Salvia spp.) are related to bells of Ireland.