In the language of flowers, bluebells denote constancy. They are also a true harbinger of long sunny days – and they are beautiful, too.
It may seem odd to be talking about them in the height of summer, but someone gave me a packet of bluebell seeds that say ‘scatter in the ground in August/September’.

And as I have been too wrapped up this part fortnight in a new job, family/friends stuff – and tomatoes!! – here’s a  post I prepared in spring but didn’t get round to using…

Bluebells for constancy

Bluebells are my favourite flower. In the village where I grew up, we (my friends and I, as children) used to pick blackberries and hedgerow fruits in autumn, along with chestnuts for roasting and conkers for games. And each spring, we’d go into the the patch of woodland in the middle of a local farm, and pick handfuls of bluebells.

Ok, I wouldn’t pick wild bluebells today! (It was a small village where everyone knew everyone, but I’m not sure it was ever really safe for us to be out on our bikes round the country lanes without adult supervision, either!). But they still make me smile, and are a sign that spring is truly under way.

Or not so much

Unfortunately, thanks to 17th century gardeners, British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are now less than ‘constant’.

The culprit is the Spanish bluebell – Hyacinthoides hispanica – introduced into gardens partly because it is fast-growing and fast-spreading.
Which is the problem. Because the Spanish bluebells soon spread beyond gardens. And because they happily cross-breed with British bluebells, they quickly produced hybrids (Hyacinthoides x massartiana), which further dilutes the gene pool.

bluebells copy.jpg

The pure flowers have some distinctive features

British bluebells

The flowers droop from the stem
The flowers are narrow and have rolled back tips
The pollen is white
They are perfumed

Spanish bluebells

Upright stems
The flowers are conical, with open tips
The pollen is blue
No scent

Hybrids

These, unsurprisingly, can have a mix of the above attributes (eg scented/unscented). The pollen, however, can also be green.

Bluebells aren’t always blue

Plenty of gardeners will tell you that bluebells can produce pink flowers, or white flowers. This can happen with natives as well as hybrids.

bluebells, constancy
Bluebells are not always blue

I planted a few British bluebells in one spot in my front garden that turned out to produce pink and white flowers. I was disappointed the first year, but they are still pretty.

Growing bluebells

Bluebells are very much a woodland flower, but also spread (in the wild) across grasslands. They acidic soils, ideally well-draining.
They come into flower anytime between late April and mid-May, lasting just a few short weeks.

You can grow them from seed, but you’ll need a lot of patience: it will be years before they flower. I will scatter the ones I was given, but not in any great hope of success. Plant them as bulbs in the early autumn, or ‘in the green’ (as plants with leaves) in the spring.
If they like the conditions, they’ll spread, in time.

bluebells constancy
‘Escaped’ bluebells growing on a pavement

Sadly, mine haven’t really done so. Which is a shame, given there are gardens a few streets away carpeted in bluebells, and even ‘escaped’ bluebells growing by lamp posts.
But other people’s bluebells are as much a joy to behold as their wild cousins.

 

3 thoughts on “Bluebells for constancy

  1. How sad in a way. Almost none of the flowers I remember from the Santa Clara Valley were natives. I did not know. I thought that apricot blossoms had always bloomed here, and that summer evenings always smelled a bit like blue gum eucalyptus. Even the mustard that was left as a cover crop in the orchards was originally dropped by the Spanish who left a trail of seed to mark the old El Camino Real. (It bloomed when it was a good time for traveling, and by the time is spread beyond the valleys where the highway was, the road was already marked.) We still had some of the California poppies back then, but they are uncommon now, and many garden varieties have been developed that are nothing like the originals.

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      1. I think that California poppies are more popular outside of California than they are here. They used to grow wild and cover large areas with bright orange. I only remember a few patches in the 1980s. They are uncommon now, except in disturbed soil along roadways. They grow about town too.

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