Recreate English summer
The late Molly Holman, of Kapiti, had fond memories of bluebell woods in her native Britain. The vast chalk-blue drifts of the springtime flowers left a strong impression on her – a sight she would have loved to have seen again.
In these beloved English forest glades, the trees’ early spring growth and open nature gives opportunistic plants such as bluebells the chance to grow and bloom as the weather warms and before the leaves grow large on the canopy above.
The dappled sunlight through the as-yet bare branches lets the bulbs give their show of blue before the sky turns green with new leaf, and the foxgloves, brambles and brackens take over the forest floor.
In New Zealand, some semblance of this can be reproduced in your own garden quite simply.
Bluebells prefer partially shady moist zones but do not have to grow beneath deciduous trees.
They will grow quite happily in flower borders, pots on shady patios and even rock gardens.
You can replicate their natural growing conditions, though, when you plant them beneath shrubs or trees that are bare come early spring when the bluebell flowers.
This is one of the advantages of deciduous trees.
A changing garden is interesting in that there is always something to enjoy in the moment and to look forward to.
If you plant bluebells beneath deciduous trees or shrubs and include later-flowering plants, you can enjoy a succession of blooms and foliage.
England’s Royal Horticultural Society suggests a way to replicate the naturalised bluebell wood in a large garden: grow the deciduous whitestemmed birches as your tree layer, then plant a shrub layer of Japanese maples or dogwoods, followed by hostas or ferns, then spring bulbs.
Evergreen trees simply block out too much light for plants and bulbs to flourish.
Bluebells are mainly blue, but some are white and others pink. You can get Spanish bluebells, too.
There is some concern in England that the Spanish hybrids could endanger the English bluebell drifts.
Spanish bluebells are mainly a garden plant in Britain, while English bluebells grow wild.
The two species cross-pollinate, resulting in plants with the dominant characteristics being of the Spanish variety. This is concerning British nature lovers, who fear the Spanish bluebell could, in time, take over native bluebell populations.
The flowers have one distinctive difference in that English bluebells grow on one side of the stalk, making it droop over in a graceful arch, while the Spanish blooms surround its stalk, allowing it to grow upright.
The latter grows in open ground rather than woodland.
In the southern hemisphere there is our own bluebell, Wahlenbergia gracillis, which while short-lived, produces sky-blue flowers throughout summer.
This perennial likes well-drained soil in semi-shade or sun and selfseeds readily.
Plant bluebells in autumn and leave for a few seasons to get established. Then clumps can be dug up and divided if wished.
Plant daffodils among them for a bold colour option or stick with a mass plant for a calming even appeal.
Place a seat nearby so you can enjoy their scent on a warm spring day – and perhaps dream of old England.
Drifts of blue: Planted beneath deciduous trees, bluebells are reminiscent of an English woodland in spring.