Poets, Gardeners, Royalty and Bluebells

The bluebell

Bluebells are wonderfully iconic, their vibrant violet hue, enchanting flowers, and beautiful scent has inspired poets, delighted gardeners, awed ramblers, and adorned royalty for centuries.

A quintessentially British wildflower, Hyancinthoides non-scripta, is the native bluebell found across the British Isles. It flowers from March through to early June, with its peak usually in April. With long leaves and delicate green stems adorned with vibrant purple bell-shaped flowers that curl gently at the edges. Each little bluebell bows elegantly towards the ground. They grow in clusters on verges, in parks and gardens. If left undisturbed bluebells will create a scented floral carpet of violet blue across deciduous woodland floors. Not to be confused with the more upright and sturdy looking Spanish bluebell, our native bluebell is found across Europe, but more than 50% of all H.non-scripta grow in the U.K.

During the winter months bluebells contract deep underground (up to 25cm beneath the surface!), where they symbiotically reside with fungi. In early spring the bluebells reach for sunlight, and by April they sit above ground where their pretty little flowers are welcomed by both pollinators and people.


Inspiring creatives
Stepping into a woodland carpeted with bluebells is an experience like no other. The scent is gentle, but ever present, a wonderful delicate floral perfume that is resplendently uplifting.

The sight of a bluebell woodland is arresting. Each tiny bell blends into an enchanting blue haze that seems utterly impossible to be real, and it becomes quite clear why the little bluebell has inspired writers and poets such as Anne and Emily Brontë, Oscar Wilde, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Early British botanists knew bluebells as cra ‘tae or crow’s toes, but they have also been known as witches’ thimbles, lady’s nightcap, wood hyacinth, wild hyacinth, cuckoo’s boots, English harebell, granfer griggles, and fairy flower.

Bluebell folklore 
It is unsurprising that bluebells are embedded in folklore and fairy stories, with tales of dark fairy magic and enchantments. Rather gloomily, it is said if you hear a bluebell ring you will soon be visited by a wicked fairy, and death will follow. If you pick a bluebell, it is thought that fairies will lead you astray and you will be lost forever. In truth, in the U.K it is illegal to pick a bluebell in the wild, so it’s an activity that is best avoided anyway!

The language of bluebells
Beliefs about bluebells extends further than folklore. In the Victorian times floriography, or the language of flowers, became immensely popular. Bluebells are symbolic of humility, gratitude and everlasting love. Turning a bluebell flower inside out without tearing it was considered a task rewarded with winning the one you love, wearing a crown of bluebells enabled one to only speak the truth.

Bluebells in the garden
In gardens the bluebell is considered by some as a weed, due to its ability to dominate and overshadow small plants, taking up space, nutrients and light in the springtime. Bluebells are difficult to remove due to their incredible ability to contract so deep underground in their resting seasons, and reappear on mass each year, as if from nowhere. It has been found that if a bluebell is trodden on, then it is unlikely to flower for up to seven years. The plant will survive but the beautiful violet flowers will take a long time to make an appearance. Personally, I am delighted to have bluebells in my garden, their display as the daffodils fade is a sure sign that the season is moving forward even when the British rain prevails. Their availability in garden centres across the British Isles, is reflective of their continued enchantment, and a weed is as we all know, only a plant in the wrong place.

Where to find bluebells
There is an abundance of woodlands across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland where a carpet of bluebells takes centre stage in April. They favour the woodland floor beneath beech trees and oaks, where the spring sunlight reaches the ground but the delicate flowers can shelter between the mighty tree trunks. The result is a visual delight of a violet blue carpet, and the sensory wonder of scent that is absolutely floral but balanced with the earthy notes of the often ancient woodland and its airy outdoor freshness.

Ask locally where known swathes of bluebells are. Ramblers and dog walkers will always know the hidden corners and hills of woodland that have erupted in perfume and carpets of blue.
A few of my favourites are –
Linchmere on the Surrey/West Sussex border, England
Explore the beautiful woodlands and walk across open countryside to find a winding path through a haze of bluebells, alongside wood anemones and daffodils.
Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, England
In the aptly named Bluebell Wood discover a three-mile walk to see the woodlands transformed with the enchanting spectacle of a violet sea of bluebells.
Penrhyn Castle and Garden in Gwynedd, Wales
Following swiftly on from the daffodils, the bluebells at Penrhyn Castle are found along paths that stretch through ancient woodland where the haze and scent of purple wildflowers greet you.
Glen Finglas in The Trossachs National Park, Scotland
A great place to see early bluebells as they carpet the ancient forests, and for late spring visitors they have been known to bloom until early June, which is a magical and unexpected sight.

Killinthomas Wood in County Kildare, Ireland
A fairy-tale woodland that erupts in violet carpets of bluebells each spring, whilst other parts of the 200 acre forest are blanketed in the leafy green and pretty white flowers of wild garlic.
For a bucket list trip, visit Hallerbos in Flanders, Belgium
A beautiful atmospheric, wonderfully scented, fairy-tale forest with expansive carpets of bluebells that create an ethereal hue of violet blue as far as the eye can see. The woodlands vary from undulating hills to formal accessible avenues and trailing narrow paths between centuries old beech trees.

Royalty and the humble bluebell
During the reign of Elizabeth I, bluebells were found to have a very practical use and bulbs were crushed to make starch for the extraordinarily stiff ruffs, collars and sleeves of the time.
In the late 20th century it was the scent of our native bluebells that found its way into the royal household. The late Diana, Princess of Wales was known to wear a bluebell perfume by Penhaligon’s, a fragrance that is reminiscent of springtime in a British woodland.
The scent of bluebells
The wonderfully uplifting perfume of a bluebell woodland also makes a delightful scent for the home, filling the air with the freshness of the outdoors alongside a gentle florality that captures springtime so elegantly. I have stood for hours gazing at the extraordinary sight of a bluebell carpeted forest floor. Breathing in the scent, noting every harmony, every detail. I knew that our April candle had to be the epitome of wildflowers in spring, and Notes of April with its botanical harmony of bluebell woodlands and blossom was formed. Read more here.
Luxury bluebell candle made in England. Wonderfully fragrant to fill your home with the scent of spring. Free UK delivery. 

The Bluebell
A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power. 
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

by Anne Brontë