Geum ‘Bell Bank’

Not everyone can be the rooster. Somebody’s got to be the flock. In fact, has anyone else noticed that garden design is moving more toward mass and edging away from divas? The superstar plant might bring in the cheers, but is it really a team player? I swoon over my fiery red, Frisbee-sized tree peony ‘Hephestos’, but I’d rather be stuck on a desert island with a Geum ‘Bell Bank’.

I never thought that I’d be pouring praises in a geum’s direction. Nope, not me. Back in my pastel phase, the bright orange geums just seemed too outspoken for polite company. And the species geums miss the party altogether. By the time I noticed that Geum triflorum was performing, it was on the verge of moving on to raise a family and scatter its seed. The seedheads are undeniably fab. But you need a slew of prairie smoke (as it’s called) to make a statement. Then Ed Bowen introduced me to the middle road. He called it Geum ‘Bell Bank’.

Geum ‘Bell Bank’ has poise. In May, it ties just about everything together with a tidy swarm of nodding flowers. Their petals have a luminous sparkle reminiscent of stained glass. You’re welcome to weigh in with an opinion on their hue, but I’m going to say apricot and brick. Plus they demurely nod. Don’t you love humility in a flower? About the size of buttons, mine form a floriferous rivulet running between the brighter orange Geum ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’ (yes, I eventually invited her to join the celebration, but she seems like a tart beside ‘Bell Bank’) and the seething red ‘Hephestos’ tree peony. Sometimes you need a peacemaker between several outspoken shades. And ‘Bell Bank’ does such a fine job of diplomacy. I’ve hired it for other missions as well. Stay tuned for future blogs.

To go back a step, I skipped over Ed Bowen too hastily. To give you the introduction — My affair with Geum ‘Bell Bank’ was Ed’s fault. And it wouldn’t be the first time Ed Bowen threw romance my way. Ed’s Rhode Island nursery is Opus ( and he’s quite possibly the region’s most savvy perennial collector and propagator. On his website, he describes his nursery as “deliberately small”, but that gives him time to be a self-designated advocate for under-utilized plants. When Ed recommends a perennial, perk up your ears. He comes to the plant sale, Trade Secrets ( every year, and I typically ask him to bring 10 of whatever I purchased the previous year. Moral of the story — never buy one of anything from Opus, you’ll end up begging for at least half a dozen and he’ll be sold out.

Okay, now you’re scratching your head and adjusting your glasses. “What’s this about Geum ‘Bell Bank’? Surely she means ‘Flames of Passion’,” you’re muttering. Absolutely, Piet Oudolf put ‘Flames of Passion’ on the map. It’s similar. It adds a wild flare to your typical frilly geum. It’s orange, it’s nice, but it lacks the allure of ‘Bell Bank’. Not a modest bone in its body. And in practical terms, side by side, my ‘Bell Bank’ blossomed for a much longer duration. In fact, ‘Bell Bank’ was still in the picture in June.

Of course, there’s the name. ‘Flames of Passion’ certainly is evocative. And then there’s ‘Bell Bank’, which sounds like it belongs beside a churchyard. But wouldn’t that be lovely?

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10 Responses to Geum ‘Bell Bank’

  1. Tovah,

    You have to stop writing about all these wonderful plants. Every time I read one of your posts, I want one. Can’t you post something about poison ivy or dandelions?

    • Tovah Martin says:

      But then I’d have to do photography…When I first started this blog, I planned to pan some plants. But then I found that I love everything. It’s a real problem…

  2. Lisa from PA says:

    This is another plant I do not have, Tovah. I don’t see it at nurseries around here either, however, I have seen it in some of the catalogs I get. I like the name and the color!

    • Tovah Martin says:

      And Opus doesn’t have its 2011 catalog up on line yet, Lisa, so I’m hoping Ed is carrying it again this year. If you find it in any other catalogs and want to clue us in…please do. ‘Flames of Passion’ is fairly well distributed and it’s a close second. Are your daffodils doing their stunts yet in PA? Ours are just on the verge.

  3. Lisa from PA says:

    Most of my bulbs are about 2-3″ poking out of the mulch right about now. Snow finally melted. Did some pruning and general clean up today and found heavy snow damaged my Caryopteris “Dark Knight”. I had to prune out at least half of the shrub from all the damage. Hope it makes it- it’s a lovely shrub and the bees just love it. I’ll look in my catalogs for Geum “Bell Bank” and see what I come up with.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Gee Lisa, we’re exactly at the same juncture with our daffodils. My puschkinias are in full splendor and the cold weather has held them beautifully. Sorry to hear about your caryopteris — I have trouble wintering it over here. But are you noticing any rodent damage? All my callicarpas are gnawed where they were submerged beneath snow — I mean totally girdled. Same with the roses. Fortunately, I prune both back heavily anyway.

  4. Lisa from PA says:

    The only damage I have seen so far is minor rabbit chewing on perennials on one side of the house. They used to chew on my nine barks out front but I prune differently now and leave the lower branches touch the ground to create a skirt. Don’t think I have any other small rodents as this neighborhood has lots of roaming cats. When you say pruned back heavily, really- how close to the ground for your roses and calicarpas? I have a hakuru nashiki willow that I was afraid to touch, but a friend has one and she said she was brutal to it. What does that mean? Guess I have to find a pruning workshop to attend~ lol

    • Tovah Martin says:

      You know, pruning is a subject that all gardeners approach with fear & trembling, Lisa. I’m brutal on the roses — I have a lot of Flower Carpet roses because I tested plants for them. I cut them within 6 inches of the ground. I don’t do the other ones quite so low, but I’m scissorhands with all my roses and they love me for it. The callicarpas are a different story. I wait for growth to come up and judge accordingly. I try to leave 1 1/2 feet of old growth and then let the new shoots fill in. A friend warned against pruning down to the ground on them. The willows you can just butcher, I’m told, and they love you for it. Might try that with my physocarpus = the bark is pretty, so I was pruning it up, but your idea might be a handsomer ticket. Thank you.

  5. Lisa from PA says:

    p.s.> I checked all my catalogs and cannot find Geum ‘Bell Bank’ in any of them.

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