When are Virginia Bluebells NOT Virginia Bluebells?

When they are  Symphytum grandiflora ‘Hidcote Blue’, otherwise known as ornamental comfrey!

Thanks to Stacy over at the fantastic blog Microcosm, the plant I thought to be a variety of Mertensia, aka Virginia Bluebells, has been correctly identified!

This is not the first time I’ve purchased plants that were mislabeled.  I thought I was buying Viriginia Bluebells and had specifically wanted them for a couple of partial – shady spots in the yard.  The plants and flowers look very similar and it wasn’t until I was home in PA last week and visited my friend Bev’s garden that I noticed the leaves of her Mertensia looked very different from mine.

Fortunately, my ornamental comfrey (!) has performed fabulously in both shady locations.  The blue flowers are gorgeous, and the fuzzy dark foliage remained all winter (granted it was a mild one.)

Here is a comparison between my plant and photos of  Symphytum grandiflora ‘Hidcote Blue’ found online.  Thanks again, Stacy, for figuring it out!

my plant, about 24 - 28" tall.



Symphytum grandiflora 'Hidcote Blue', photo obviously swiped from http://www.highcountrygardens.com


close up of leaves and flowers of my plant

close up of Symphytum grandiflora 'Hidcote Blue' on http://www.plantdatabase.ie


Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

Another site indicated that ornamental comfrey can be invasive in some areas, but so far it has not shown signs of wanting to take over the yard.  It has grown in the past year, but I must say it’s been one of my favorite plants in the garden.  I’m hoping it will continue to be well behaved!


13 thoughts on “When are Virginia Bluebells NOT Virginia Bluebells?

  1. It turns out that due to its fleshy nature, comfrey breaks down into a gelatinous goo quite easily. Simply tear or clip the leaves and place in a bucket of water with a lid. Stir twice in a week and what you have by the second week is a gooey brown, smelly fermenting mess…

    This simple process of fermentation renders this plant into a very good fertilizer for all plants. What’s more, it actually seems to like being cut time and time again and grows back vigorously with each cutting.

    • Wow – thanks for this great reminder! I had read about this in a great book called ‘Garden Anywhere’ by British author Alys Fowler. I just checked, and she says that two common wild forms, Symphytum officinale, Symphytum asperum, along with ‘Bocking 14’ – a Russian cultivar – make great brewed fertilizer. She doesn’t mention my ornamental variety though…maybe I can experiment with one of them to see if it seems to work. The leaves of the wild forms she listed are enormous…in the photos of her holding them they look to be about 12″ wide and 24″ long – each!

    • Hi Donna! We might just be able to do that! I have two of these comfreys, and they’ve both grown substantially this year. I read that you divide them, so perhaps this fall will be the time to do that? My husband and I are getting a car next week and will finally be able to take some trips outside the city. Who knows – maybe one day I can head up your way and we can trade!

  2. I’m so pleased that the ID worked out, Aimee! I had actually been lusting after the ornamental comfrey in the HCG catalog for months or would have had no clue. (Lust: not as bad as it’s painted.)
    Btw, it’s wonderful to have you back in the blogosphere! Your enthusiasm has really been missed.

    • Aw, shucks! What a sweet thing to say – thank you! Life just got very busy lately, fortunately in many good ways which I’ll be sharing soon, but I have definitely missed catching up with all the great blogs I’ve come to love so much. Now that I’m caught up I’m hoping to stay on top of posting and reading.

      So far I would highly recommend the ornamental comfrey! It’s one of the stars of the show in our garden for sure, and l remember last year it kept its flowers for quite a long time – another bonus. I’ll be watching it closely this year (and calling it by its proper name!)

  3. If it helps, comfrey is furry and semi-evergreen; Virginia bluebells are NOT furry and ephemeral. I’d call comfrey aggressive rather than invasive, but once it settles in, it does spread vigorously. Remember the old saw about perennials. The first year they sleep; the second they creep; the third they leap. Give it three years before you decide if it’s a thug!

    I planted it in a shady, clay spot hoping that will slow it down a little bit.

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