Gerry Daly on the joy of wild blue­bells in the gar­den

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Property - - FRONT PAGE - GERRY DALY

WHEN you see blue­bells grow­ing in the coun­try­side, there are gen­er­ally swathes of them. It is a na­tive flower, grow­ing wild in wood­land un­der hazel or oak, both trees that do not cast too heavy a shade. Blue­bells are grown in gar­dens too, where they can cause mixed feel­ings.

The wild blue­bell is a very grace­ful flower, arch­ing over at the tip of the flower stem with bell-shaped flow­ers dan­gling on short fine stalks.

Usu­ally the flow­ers hang to one side of the stem and the tips of the petals are rolled back more than the Span­ish blue­bell that is widely grown in gar­dens.

The Span­ish blue­bell is a dif­fer­ent species, closely re­lated, but much big­ger than the wild blue­bell. It has broader leaves, twice as broad at least and straight flower stems and big­ger, more open, bell flow­ers hang­ing on shorter stalks, all around the stem. Usu­ally it is of a lighter blue colour than the wild species.

In re­cent times, the Span­ish blue­bell of gar­dens has been hy­bri­dis­ing with the na­tive kind, the pollen be­ing car­ried from gar­den flow­ers to pol­li­nate the wild species. This mostly hap­pens when the two species are grown in the same gar­den, but bees can fly a few kilo­me­tres.

The hy­brid forms ex­hibit char­ac­ter­is­tics in­ter­me­di­ate be­tween the two species to a greater or lesser de­gree as back-crosses are made. The hy­brids are dec­o­ra­tive and grow well but it seems a pity if the dis­tinc­tive charm of the na­tive species were to be greatly di­luted.

And some gar­den­ers hate the sight of ei­ther kind, at least in the gar­den. Both species are pro­lific pro­duc­ers of seeds that find their way around gar­dens on footwear, tools and in com­post. The seeds ger­mi­nate read­ily and pro­duce grassy leaves, the bulbs grow­ing in size un­til big enough to flower.

Quite of­ten the self-sown blue­bell plants are not no­ticed un­til they flower, some­times in the mid­dle of a herba­ceous peren­nial flower, or in a rock gar­den plant, from where the blue­bell bulb is next to im­pos­si­ble to root out. And then it be­gins to form a clump.

To stop self-sow­ing, re­move the seed pods when still green, that is, if there are not large num­bers of blue­bells.

The hy­brid Span­ish blue­bells are dec­o­ra­tive and grow well in the gar­den

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