Into the blue...


Bluebells - Credit: Archant

THIS evening I took a drive down a road that is out of my way. I wanted to check on something very special. I wanted to check whether the bluebells were out.


Bluebells - Credit: Archant

They weren’t. Disappointed, I turned the car around and headed back the way I had come.

This is a journey I will probably make several more times in the next couple of weeks, but by the look of the leaves, I don’t think it will be long before my efforts are rewarded with the first glimpse of blue.

It runs like wildfire through the village, and through my family – the bluebells are out, they’re out... then for the next couple of weeks there will be conversations in the local pub about how good they are this year, or how they compare to last year, and whether too much, or not enough, rain has affected them year on year.

There will be people who sit on their bar stool and talk about how they remember a certain year where the flowers were particularly good, or a new patch of wood somewhere else – where they are excellent this year.

In rural communities that are based around woodland, bluebells are still a big talking point – and so they deserve to be. They are such an ancient, and such a special flower, they deserve to be talked about, to be admired. You can buy massive canvasses of photographs of bluebell woods, or scented candles, anything to attempt to capture the quintessential Englishness of these dainty and delicate flowers.

Facts about bluebells

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Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the English bluebell is a flower which many people get passionate about – even people who don’t normally get involved with gardening, will get in the car and make a trip out to Bluebell woods to enjoy the colour, and the scent of this beautiful, traditional native plant.

They thrive in our woodlands, and Britain is thought to hold up to half of the world’s entire stock of these fabulous plants.

They give off an incredible scent, which is absolutely unmistakeable – I have many bottles of perfume and room spray at home which claim to smell just like bluebells, but I can promise you that not a single one of them comes close to the incredible smell that hits you when you walk beneath the trees in a bluebell wood.

There are bluebell woods in the village where I grew up, and they were something that I have always enjoyed, within the last 10 years, there has been a huge increase in the number of people who have come to visit those woods – sometimes completely blocking the roads, and maybe forgetting that there are people who live and work in the locality who need to be able to go about their business...

I love that people can come and enjoy the bluebells, just as those people who live locally have been doing for decades, but also hope that they will take their litter home, and not pick the bluebells.

Bluebells are actually a protected species, and although they spread very easily, it’s very important that people treat them with care when they come to look around the bluebell woods – not least for the fact that it’s nice to leave them as they are for the next people who are coming to enjoy them.

One year I remember getting up really early in the morning to go down to the woods to photograph them. We arrived at about six in the morning, and I thought we would get some beautiful shots of the woods with nobody else in the picture. I couldn’t have been more wrong – there were already several professional photographers there who had obviously all thought the same thing. This year I’ll have to get up even earlier!

There are different types of bluebells that can be found in Britain – both the native English bluebells, and the Spanish ones, which can also form hybrids with the English bluebells.

Spot the difference

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two at first glance, but there are one or two things that you can look at to try to tell if you are enjoying native English bluebells or their Spanish counterparts.

* English bluebells are often smaller than the Spanish ones, and are also more tightly curled back at the tip.

* The English bluebells tend to have the flowers on one side of the stem, whereas Spanish ones can be found all around the stem.

Things to do in your garden this month...

IF you haven’t already done so, you should make sure you deadhead all of your daffodils leaving the leaves behind. This will ensure food goes to the bulb in preparation for next year rather than the seed head.

Enjoy the final weeks of the spring bulbs – tulips and snakeshead fritillary will be making an appearance this month. They are a little bit later than we would normally expect, due to the cold weather, but let’s enjoy them now that they are here.

You may also start to see alliums this month, their tall shape giving lovely height to the garden.

Continue to prick out any bedding plants that you have grown from seed, and when you think we have had the last of the frost, you can start to harden them off in cold frames if you are lucky enough to have them!

Plant up hanging baskets - but again, keep these inside until you can be sure that the frosts are behind us.

Sweet peas can be planted out this month – this is the one that excites me the most!

Runner beans will need to go in as soon as possible, if they are going straight into the ground as seeds – May 6 is the traditional date for this. If you are planning to buy established plants, they shouldn’t go out until the risk of frost has passed.

Rhododendrons will be starting to come out. If you are thinking about planting a rhododendron in your garden they like to have some ericaceous compost in the hole before you plant the shrub.

They give a very welcome burst of colour, and can give great shape to a border.

They come in lots of different colour ranges, and you can buy dwarf varieties, which would happily be planted in a container if you don’t have a very big garden.

Coming up next month...

THIS month I will be getting very excited, as it’s only three weeks until I will be attending the press day at RHS Chelsea. The annual flower show is celebrating its 125th year, so the show promises to be very special indeed.

My column will be covering what I have seen, hopefully including some local people who will be exhibiting at the show.

It won’t be coming out until a couple of weeks after the event though, so make sure you catch some of the coverage on the television which is always excellent, and if you can’t get to the show itself, it’s a very good second best!

Chelsea is the highlight of my gardening year – I love to get ideas for the coming year in my own garden, and particularly from the small gardens which are actually very similar in size to my own – so you can truly see what can be done in a small space, as the garden is there in front of you.