Bluebells in bloom herald spring
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)