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.
The pure flowers have some distinctive features
The flowers droop from the stem
The flowers are narrow and have rolled back tips
The pollen is white
They are perfumed
The flowers are conical, with open tips
The pollen is blue
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.
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.
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.
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.