Bluebells-From the English Woods
to the Gardens of America
This year Harvesting History’s fall newsletter series is going to focus on spring flowering bulbs that are critter resistant and great plants for nourishing pollinators. In the last two newsletters, we discussed Rock Garden Irises (Iris reticulatas) and Chionodoxas (Glory of the Snow) and Galanthus (Snowdrops). In this newsletter we are going to focus on the Bluebells (Hyacinthoides).
The Bluebells are native to the Mediterranean region and have born numerous scientific names. Originally, they were thought to be hyacinths and then a form of giant scilla. Then they were renamed Endymion after the Greek god who was blessed with perpetual youthfulness through perpetual sleep. Today they belong to their own species, Hyacinthoides, and are commonly known as English or Spanish Bluebells.
The English Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, were introduced from the Mediterranean into the British Isles approximately 500 years ago. The plants loved the English environment and the Brits loved the plants. The result was that hundreds of acres of English woodlands became populated with this prolific flower and even today, in spring, vast areas of English woodland are carpeted in the periwinkle blue of the English Bluebell. Most Brits believe that the English Bluebell is native to their country, but, in fact, the English Bluebell is not native to the British Isles. This does not discourage the Brits from hailing “their bluebell” as the national symbol of spring.
Farther south on the Iberian Penninsula, the Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, flourishes most often in shades of pink, but also in blues and white.
Hyacinthoides are extremely vigorous and extremely prolific. They will easily double or triple in number each year. They are best planted in drifts of 10 bulbs, but 5 bulbs will still create a presence in the garden during their first year.
The bulbs should be planted at least 6 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart. When planting, add 1/4 cup of bone meal to each hole. The bulbs should be divided every 4-5 years. If they are not divided, they will cease to produce flowers.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, The English Bluebell, was introduced into the British Isles around 1580. The plant produces 18 inch flower spikes which frequently droop near the top of the spike. The flowers are usually periwinkle blue often with a deeper blue stripe down the middle of each petal.
Non-scripta is quite vigorous. It is hardy from Hardiness Zone 4 – Hardiness Zone 7 and will flourish in shade and partial shade.
There is a white variety of non-scripta and, rarely, a pink variety.
Hyacinthoides hispanica, The Spanish Bluebell, is native to the Iberian Penninsula. The plants produce the strongest pink color of all the hyacinthoides. Flower spikes usually reach a height of 18 inches. There are some cultivars that bloom white or blue, but hispanica is largely grown for its pink color.
This plant is unusually prolific and will easily triple or quadruple in number in a year. Like its cousin, non-scripta, it flourishes in shade and partial shade as well as full sun. Hispanica is also incredibly hardy. It will flourish from Hardiness Zone 3 to Hardiness Zone 8.
All Hyacinthoides are truly critter resistant. I have a terrible problem with moles and voles during the winter months, but these critters do not touch my hyacinthoides bulbs. During the spring, bunnies are the problem, but they do not consume the hyacinthoides. Deer, which can be a perpetual problem, leave the plants alone.
If you are a modern gardener seeking plant selections that are of the “plant and done” variety, the hyacinthoides are a great choice for anywhere in your garden. Yes, you should divide them every 4-5 years, but other than that you can leave them alone and sit back and enjoy their beauty.