The California blue bell, as the name implies, is a native of southern California, and adapts to gardens or wildflower plantings with equal ease. The name Phacelia comes from the Greek word phakelos for "cluster," referring to the groups of flowers the plants bear.
Description of California blue bells: California blue bells grow about 8 inches tall with a branched, open form. They have triangular-shaped leaves and blue, bell-like flowers. The stamens stick out beyond the flower, resembling the clapper of a bell.
Growing California blue bells: Phacelias grow best in full sun in dryish, sandy soil, although they will tolerate other conditions if they have good drainage. They bloom best given cool, dry, sunny weather in the spring and diminish in the hot, humid weather of summer. Space plants 6 to 8 inches apart. Plant in areas protected from high winds or stake them. Brushwood stakes inserted in the ground when plants are small will be concealed when foliage grows around them.
Propagating California blue bells: By seed. In mild winter climates, seeds can be sown outdoors in the fall for earliest bloom. Elsewhere, sow as early in the spring as the ground can be worked. Thin them to the proper spacing shortly after they emerge. For earliest bloom, start plants indoors 6 to 8 weeks prior to planting outside as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Seeds germinate in 8 to 15 days at 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Growing them in peat pots will facilitate transplanting.
Uses for California blue bells: California blue bells are good in informal situations. Plant them in masses for the dominant blue tones they provide. Grow phacelias in natural gardens and wildflower meadows.
California blue bells related species: Phacelia viscida has deep blue flowers with white- and blue-speckled throats. It grows up to 2 feet tall. P. tanacetifolia, sometimes called "wild heliotrope," bears clusters of purple-to-violet flowers with lighter centers.
Scientific name of California blue bells: Phacelia campanularia