Beautiful bluebells make this the ideal time to visit Ashridge

PUBLISHED: 13:00 05 May 2017 | UPDATED: 21:10 07 May 2017

Springtime brings the annual impressive display of bluebells at Dockey Wood

Springtime brings the annual impressive display of bluebells at Dockey Wood

Connie Fitzgerald

Our columnist has enjoyed sharing the wonder of Dockey Wood with her husband and baby daughter.

Picture perfect: Bluebells are a beautiful sightPicture perfect: Bluebells are a beautiful sight

I don’t know how many times I must have visited the bluebell woods in Ashridge over the years - but it must be most years for the past 30 years, and you might think that the wonder of it would wear off. With most visitor attractions, or sites of interest, the more times you visit, you might find them less interesting, or be less impressed than the first time you visited, but with the bluebells, that just isn’t the case.

It is true that this year was slightly different - having walked around Dockey Wood most years since I was old enough to walk, I wanted to take my newborn daughter. Although she’s not going to remember any of it, and I’m fairly sure she didn’t open her eyes once during our visit, I wanted to make a new memory there - to visit with her for the first time. As we wandered beneath the trees, my husband explained that he’d never been there before either - it was really special to be able to share this magical place with him, and to see it through fresh eyes for the first time. The scent of the bluebells is sometimes stronger than at other times - when we visited this week, it was a cold morning, and although there was a definite scent on the air, it wasn’t as strong as when the sun is dappling through the trees above, and warming the flowers - filling the air with the wonderful and intoxicating smell of English bluebells.

It would be wonderful if the bluebells stayed in bloom for longer - it feels as though they are no sooner out, than they are starting to go over, and by the end of this week, they will be going past their best. If they were out for longer, then I suppose they wouldn’t be so special. It feels as though the number of people who visit the bluebell woods grows every year. Although there are still some patches of bluebells in the woods around here that not so many people know about - the most popular are no doubt the ones that have been spoken about in the media, and those that people visit year on year, and tell their friends about. It is lovely that people want to share their experience of the bluebells with others. With social media, the power of sharing their photographs on Facebook and Twitter means that more and more people are getting to enjoy the beautiful display that nature puts on year on year.

Sadly, in some places, the large numbers of people visiting these woods have caused damage - largely unintentional, with people trampling the bluebells in order to get the best photograph, or in some cases, people having picked them, not knowing that it is illegal to do so. In order to counter this, some woods have started to protect various paths, and in Dockey Wood in particular, the National Trust (who own the land) have put up fences, and started to charge for entry on the most popular weekends during bluebell season. Although in many ways it feels strange that people should have to pay to enjoy the privilege of enjoying them, if this protects them for future generations it’s probably no bad thing.

The bluebells make this a popular time of year to visit AshridgeThe bluebells make this a popular time of year to visit Ashridge

Of course, some people are lucky enough to have native bluebells in their own garden, and it is possible to buy them through mail order companies. I have a few sparse ones growing in my garden that were here when I moved in, but I plan to increase these for next year, as I adore them so much. If you get a chance to get out and enjoy the last of the display this week, it’s well worth it - if not, you’ll have to wait for next year!

How to tell the difference between native English bluebells and Spanish bluebells:

*Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides Hispanica) were introduced to Great Britain in the Seventeenth Century, and both they, and the hybrids that they have formed through cross-breeding with our native English Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are now far more prevalent than our original native form.

* English bluebells have flowers just along one side of the stem, whereas Spanish bluebells have flowers on all sides of their stem

* Spanish bluebells are unscented, whereas the native bluebells are highly scented with that unmistakeable heady aroma.

* The English flowers have a noticeable bend in the flower spike, whereby the Spanish ones are far more upright.

Things to do in the garden this month

As we head towards summer, and the days are getting warmer, there are more and more jobs to be done in the garden - here are some of things you can tackle this month:

*If like me, you haven’t got around to deadheading your daffodils promptly, now is definitely the time to get this job done. This will allow the goodness to go back into the bulbs for next year, and makes the garden look much tidier almost instantly.

*If you have a lot of moss in your lawn, and you want to get rid of it - now is the time to scarify and treat your lawns. If you don’t own a scarifier (most people don’t), some local gardening groups, or horticultural suppliers sometimes have them available for hire.

* Now is the time to get busy with your vegetables - you can finish planting out your main crop of potatoes, and start to plant broad beans within the next couple of weeks.

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