Bluebell woodsThere is nothing more magical than walking through a woods carpeted in native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). If you have never been to a bluebell woods, you must make a visit. There are several places you can see bluebells within reasonable distance from Banbury: Wytham Woods, Stoke Woods, Coton Manor Gardens, Packwood House, Croughton Court, Blenheim Palace grounds, and Hazelborough Woods.

You can identify English bluebells by their deeper blue colour than the Spanish bluebells. They have their bell shaped flowers on one side of the stem, and their strap like leaves are relatively narrow.English bluebells

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), which are present in many gardens, and have interbred with the native bluebells (producing the hybrid Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta), were introduced to Britain in the 1680s, and first recorded in the wild in 1909. They have broader leaves and paler blue flowers than the native bluebell and can also be pink or white flowered. As a garden plant, the Spanish bluebell has, in the past, been favoured over the native bluebell, because it grows readily in sunnier places, and is more vigorous, with bolder, more showy flowers. The native bluebell is more specific in its requirements, preferring slightly acid soil, and shadier places, that have some winter and early spring sun (i.e. broad leaved woodlands).

Native bluebells are threatened by competition and hybridisation, habitat loss, unsustainable collection and climate change. Since 1998 it has been illegal to collect bluebells from the wild for commercial purposes.

It is only legal to dig up plants on your own land.

If you want to collect bluebells, for a conservation project, it is possible to get a licence to collect the seed. Otherwise, make sure you buy bulbs from reputable sources such as The Organic Gardening Catalogue, that raise plants in a nursery, rather than taking from the wild.

In the past, bluebells were often associated with many fairy enchantments. It used to be believed that the ‘bells’ rang to summon fairies to gatherings and any human that heard the bell ring would soon die.

If you have the right conditions for native bluebells, I would recommend you plant them, but if you don’t have the right conditions, as many of us don’t, because of the threat to native bluebells, I would never recommend planting the Spanish one as an alternative.

I would go forgrape Hyacinths (Muscari)

  • grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum, pictured right),
  • Scilla,
  • Chionodoxa,
  • Camassia

all of these have attractive blue flowers that won’t interbreed with our native bluebells.

If you want to dig up and get rid of Spanish bluebells, it is best to dispose of them through your council’s garden waste disposal bin, or thoroughly dry out the bulbs before composting, as they often survive composting and you can inadvertently spread them.

Creating A Woodland Edge Habitat:

Most of us don’t have gardens big enough for a woodland garden, but the woodland edge is where you see the widest variety of species growing. A woodland edge habitat can consist of a few trees large trees, such as oak, ash or beech, a shrub understory, some perennial ground cover and bulbs. The key to making an interesting arrangement in a shady piece of garden, is to combine different textures and shapes, such as the round smooth shiny leaves of a Bergenia, next to the feathery leaves of ferns, next to, for instance, a Cotoneaster, with some  wood violets, cyclamen, herb robert, or primroses for colour. Don’t try to combine everything at once, be selective and look for contrast, pleasing shapes, and use repetition to establish unity and harmony. Woodland edge plants often grow more slowly than sunny borders, but, if the plants are well chosen and arranged, they can be amongst the most satisfying and peaceful to look upon, even if we don’t have space for a bluebell wood in our own garden.

If you are interested in establishing a woodland edge habitat in your garden, have a look at my blog ‘Creating a Woodland Edge Habitat in your Garden’

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