Gardening: Why we must all respect our bluebells, or lose them forever
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 May 2016
A sea of bluebells. As far as the eye can see. A heady scent which is totally intoxicating, and yet gentle at the same time - wrapping around my head and overpowering my senses.
It’s a memory which fills my childhood. It wasn’t special, it wasn’t anything unusual – it was an annual event; punctuating the years of my youth. I thought nothing of it – you rarely do when you’re spoilt by living close to something, or someplace as wonderful as Ashridge. I didn’t notice until about five years ago – the cars.
The cars which line the roads and block the driveways. The litter which collects along the roadside, and the lolly wrappers which are left lying in the verge long after the ice cream van has driven away.
To start with, I was annoyed. I was angry that people would come from elsewhere, that they would leave behind their rubbish in this place where we lived, even though they wouldn’t dream of leaving it outside their own house.
As the years went by, I wasn’t angry, so much as confused - confused as to why people who had got in their cars, and made the effort to travel the several miles from whichever nearest town, or indeed even further afield, to visit this natural area of beauty - to appreciate the incredible power of these incredible plants, but yet to have so little respect for them that they are happy to throw all their litter behind
Or worse still, to trample the flowers - in recent years, since the advent of social media, and smartphone technology, everyone seems to want to get right into the middle of the flowers to take a selfie - or to sit down to get a good photo.
Without thinking of the damage done to the flowers, as they are crushed underfoot, flower-tourists trample down the very thing that they have travelled to see.
In the past few years, the National Trust who own the land where these famous bluebells grow, have done their best to close off some of the paths of impacted ground - trying to persuade the visitors to use fewer routes through the woods, and allowing the flowers to reclaim the trodden patches.
Sadly this hasn’t been enough, and this year if you drive along to Dockey Wood on the Ashridge Estate, you will see that the wood has been fenced off.
On the last weekend of April, and the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of May, there will be wardens patrolling the woods - the Trust tells us that this is to explain to people the work that they do, but I hope they will also be making sure that people are keeping off the flowers - that they are taking photos, and making memories, but not leaving anything of themselves behind - their rubbish, their footprints.
The National Trust will also be charging during certain hours on these two particular weekends - a small charge which I guess will deter some people from visiting, or might encourage people to visit on different days - spreading out the visitors rather than everyone visiting on those two weekends.
I was indignant when I heard of the charge - I didn’t, and don’t think that it’s right that people should have to pay for the privilege of visiting these woods which I have held so sacred for so many years. I do understand that if they don’t take measures to protect the bluebells, then they might be lost forever, and that is something that we just can’t risk happening...
The bluebells in Ashridge are the ones that are close to my heart, for obvious reasons. I plan to go there in a few weeks’ time with my fiancé and our wedding photographer, for our “practice photos” - because I couldn’t think of anywhere more perfect for me.
I know I’m not alone in this though - I have spoken to so many people about the bluebells this year, and each one has told me of another bluebell wood - each different to the other, and each in a different place in Hertfordshire.
I have smiled to myself each time they have told me how ‘their” bluebells are secret - how they are in a wood which hardly anyone knows about, and that they’ve been going there since they were children.
I adore the fact that these magical little flowers are so captivating that all kinds of people, young and old, still make their own pilgrimages to visit them within these few special weeks of the year. Let’s look after them, let’s celebrate them, and long may they continue to grow and thrive in Hertfordshire!
Focus on bluebells - Spanish vs English - how to tell the difference?
If, like most people, you’re not sure of the difference between our lovely native bluebells, and their Spanish counterparts - here is a handy guide.
Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides Hispanica) were introduced to Great Britain in the 17th 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 have tonnes of daffodils still flowering in the garden - they will likely all be going over within the next couple of weeks, so then it will be time to deadhead them. This will allow the goodness to go back into the bulbs for next year.
* 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.