Blue­bells in bloom her­ald spring

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING -

We are en­joy­ing all types of weather at the mo­ment, with the head­lines be­ing ‘hot­ter than Mar­bella’ one week and then snow in places the next. What’s a gar­dener to do? Spring has sprung, gar­dens and parks are heav­ing with colour as the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of buds break­ing, trees emerg­ing into leaf, and gar­den flow­ers bright­en­ing our sur­round­ings con­tin­ues.

A cou­ple of years back dur­ing May, I went on a short trip to Guernsey in the Chan­nel Is­lands. My trip co­in­cided with the Flo­ral Guernsey cel­e­bra­tions, when gar­dens, parks and even planted round­abouts ooze with jewel-like dis­plays of bed­ding.

How­ever, the most star­tling dis­play of the week­end was en­joy­ing a stroll through the is­land’s famed blue­bell woods. Walk­ing along a coastal path with the sea glis­ten­ing in the spring sun­shine, the scent and sight of blue­bells in the dis­tance stopped me in my tracks. As Hous­man’s A Shrop­shire Lad would have it: “And like a skylit wa­ter stood The blue­bells in the azured wood.” Dot­ted through the blue flow­ers were clus- ters of Al­lium triquestrum — the three-cor­nered leek that looks a lot like a white blue­bell. I have this in my gar­den and, while many con­sider it to be in­va­sive, I quite like it and hap­pily let it colonise a bit.

Our na­tive blue­bell is known as Hy­acinthoides non-scripta. It’s from the Lil­i­aceae fam­ily and its flow­er­ing time is in April and May. Its flow­ers are blue or oc­ca­sion­ally white or mauve, one-sided on droop­ing stalks. The blue­bell has green, glossy lin­ear leaves that they grow to a height of 20 to 50cm. You’ll find them in de­cid­u­ous wood­land, hedge banks, grass­land and on bracken-cov­ered slopes.

If you would like to grow blue­bells in your gar­den, now’s the time to pur­chase them as plants or ‘in the green’. One ad­van­tage of do­ing this while it’s in flower is you’ll know ex­actly what you are buy­ing.

Our na­tive blue­bell is un­der threat from the in­vad­ing Span­ish blue­bell, but you can help pro­tect the species by only pur­chas­ing the na­tive va­ri­ety. They are a pro­tected species and it is a crim­i­nal of­fence to re­move bulbs from the wild.

The Span­ish va­ri­ety has flow­ers on all sides of a stouter upright stem, while our one has a won­der­ful fra­grance that is lack­ing in the Span­ish blue­bell. The Span­ish blue­bell tends to be a pale blue, lack­ing that in­tense vi­o­let blue of ours, which is also a much in­tenser shade of vi­o­let-blue.

Blue­bells are best planted in places that mimic their nat­u­ral habi­tat, so un­der de­cid­u­ous trees is ideal, and they will hap­pily co­habit with other wood­land dwellers.

I’m try­ing to en­cour­age mine to spread un­derneath the birch trees so, ev­ery year after they have flow­ered, I dig up a clump, sep­a­rate it and re­plant in lit­tle clumps through­out. You can also buy bulbs in the au­tumn and pop them in the ground then.

So, where’s the best place for spot­ting them?

You can find dol­lops of them through­out our is­lands, pri­mar­ily in wood­lands and hedgerows along with other plants such as prim­rose and wood anemone. En­joy!

PRO­TECT­ING THE SPECIES: plant­ing only na­tive blue­bells will help fight off the threat from Span­ish blue­bells (right)

BY DIAR­MUID GAVIN

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