English Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

Molineux(6b)June 8, 2005

From my garden journal

English Bluebell

(Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

IÂve been lusting after this fragrant wild flower ever since I read about its folkloric background in Brian FroudÂs book FAERIES. In the autumn of 2004 I planted several English Bluebell bulbs underneath a white river birch tree. I must say that I was rather disappointed by their spring performance. The sweet fragrance was lovely but the bulbs bloomed for a very short period of time, no more than 2 weeks tops. The color was a bit off too. I was expecting a medium to deep shade of violet-blue but in reality the pale flowers are more lavender than blue. The flowers are also tiny and lacking in presence. Frankly I got much more satisfaction from the grape hyacinths planted in the same bed. On the positive side the bluebells did extend the spring color in this bed by two weeks as they bloomed right after the grape hyacinths were finished for the season. The curved stem supporting the nodding flowers is also quite charming. I might try digging them up and planting them in clumps in areas of the garden dominated by purple colored flowers.

Other names: Bluebell, Wood Hyacinth

Class: Bulb

Bloom Time: late spring for 2 weeks

Exposure: partial shade

Fragrance: yes, similar to Dutch hyacinths but sweeter and lighter

Height: 8-10"

Planting Time: autumn

Soil: prefers black loam but my soil is red clay that has been amended for better drainage

Zones: 4-8

Folklore: From Brian Froud's FAERIES "The English Bluebell is considered one of the most potent faerie flowers and a bluebell wood is an extremely hazardous place to be  an area of glamour woven spells and enchantment".

Source: BreckÂs Bulbs (http://brecks.com)

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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

Are you 100% sure you got the real deal? Plenty of people out there selling other species or hybrids as non-scripta.

Here's a real one. Note the strongly drooping stalk, flowers only on one side of the stalk, good blue colour, narrow straight-sided bell, and petal tips reflexed almost back onto the tube. And obviously fragrance. The colour does have a hint of lilac to it, but it is quite a good blue as flowers go.

Some hybrids show some of these features, sometimes including scent, but only the straight species has the combination of all these features shown strongly.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 5:06PM
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brian2cv(~8 UK)

There are sheets of bluebells in my local woods. I would describe them as mid to deep blue with a hint of purple. A bit darker than they appear in Shrubs photo on my vdu. They are mostly on heavy clay soils, amended by the leaf fall, although they will grow anywhere if you move them. They also come in white occassionally, but I suspect the odd pink plants in one site locally have some spanish influence in them.
Patrick; can you tell me what your "black loam" is please? I have seen bags of what appears to be fine peat, dusty when dry, when visiting in Canada, labelled as black loam, or something similar.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 6:41PM
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Shrubs-in-Bulbs, my "English Bluebells" look exactly like your image but the color is a clear lavender. There are some blue tones but definately not enough to change the predominant lavender color. Compared to grape hyacinths there is a definate difference in perception and saturation (GH=vivid cobalt blue/EB=soft lavender).

Brian, black loam is soil that is as black as night with the consistency of moist chocolate cake. It has a lot a decomposted organic matter, crumbles easily, has ideal drainage, and is the perfect medium for basically growing anything.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2005 at 12:04PM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

Here is a picture of some Spanish bluebells, actually probably hybrids.

I would describe these as Lavender. If your flowers are close to this colour then I suspect you have some hybrid genes. Spanish bluebells may also show striped petals and pink colours.

Here are a few other identifying features of the two species:

H. non-scripta: yellow/cream pollen, leaves less than an inch wide, parallel sided flowers, strongly reflexed tips, drooping flower stalks with dark tips, flowers to one side of the stalk.
H. hispanica: blue pollen, leaves up to more than an inch wide, bell-shaped flowers, less reflexed tips, upright green flower stalks, flowers all round the stalk.
Hybrids tend to show dominant spanish features but may have almost any combination of intermediate characteristics. Once you have seen both species to compare, it becomes easy to distinguish them.

Some other things that may help to stem your disappointment. Individual bluebell flowers are small. Even individual flower stalks are not very showy, but they are vigorous and will quickly develop large clumps with multiple flowering stalks. As with many bulbs, use them en masse. The flowering period for individual plants is two weeks or less, but with many plants, you get a display over about a month. Underneath a thirsty tree may not be the best place. They like good moisture and do well in a heavy soil. The flower colour may also change with different soils, although all English Bluebells I have ever seen have a mid to deep blue colour.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2005 at 4:31PM
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Well it sounds like what I have is either a hybrid or some weak bulbs starved by the birch tree. In appearance it matches your description of "English" bluebells in every way except color. The stems are curved (not straight), pollen is golden, reflexed petal tips, flowers on one of side, and most importantly, persistent fragrance. From what I've been able to discover in my research SPANISH BLUEBELLS aren't fragrant. That is a trait from the original H. non-scripta. Said fragrance is unique too for its sweetness. Much sweeter than Dutch Hyacinths. An entire woodland of these flowers must be like walking into a perfumers dream.

All I know is that I'm keeping them. Just not in this particular spot.

As for the Grape Hyacinths, they weren't in the slightest bit bothered by the birch tree.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 2:50PM
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brian2cv(~8 UK)

I came across this website today. Thought you might be interested. The closeup shows the rather dull dark blue they often are when looked at individually.
I wood guess the white patch in the second photo is wood anemone (nemorosa).

Here is a link that might be useful: English bluebells

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 4:56AM
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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)


Here's a link, which might also be useful in more ways than you can imagine.

Hope this helps.


Here is a link that might be useful: The Missouri Botanical Garden - Plant Finder

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 1:21AM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Brian2cv - what lovely photos! Made me want to run out and buy hundreds of bluebells for my woods. (thousands would cost too much and take too long to plant :-)

    Bookmark   October 20, 2005 at 7:17AM
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I was lusting after these photos and foudn VE is out so are B&B's but Dutch Gardens still have some. Only the picture shows the upright stem! They have the same name.

The B&B photo shows a different leaf, or something else was planted with it.


    Bookmark   October 22, 2005 at 12:43AM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

The Dutch Gardens photo is not of English Bluebells. It appears to be Spanish Bluebells retouched to look dark blue. They might still be selling the real deal though.

The B&B photo is an English Bluebell (or possibly a hybrid, its a small picture) poking through Alchemilla mollis foliage. You can just see some of the bluebell foliage to the right.

Van Engelen probably have it right.

A normally reliable source, The Plant Expert, also has a picture of Spanish Bluebells labelled as English Bluebells. Look at the broad leaves and upright spikes.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Plant Expert

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 6:59AM
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MarkG_UK(UK - Zone 8)

Hi, I'll just add a little bit to confirm some of the things said. Photos of massed bluebells do look blue, they look similar from a distance in the flesh also. Individually they look more purple. Re the scent, it's still only relatively slight where they are massed, and you need to pick a warm day. I used to live a few miles from a nature reserve with thousands, possibly millions of the pure species.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 2:15PM
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1st posting! Does anyone know of a reliable source for H. non-scripta bulbs? I am originally from the English Lake District, where these things grow in carpets in the woodlands, and would like to have them in my shade garden. I am aware that under British law it is illegal to uproot any wild plant, which may account for some of the difficulties I seem to have in finding a supplier of the real thing.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2006 at 6:45PM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

Numerous US bulb houses (can you order from the US?) offer English Bluebells. I can't be sure any of them are the real deal. As you will see if you browse around, not all of them can even be bothered to get a picture of the right species. Almost all will be offered for autumn delivery, to flower next spring. Right now you would be looking for them in the green and I don't know any North American suppliers.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2006 at 2:43PM
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I am getting into English Bluebells. My first planting have now come back for the third time, so it looks like they will make it. About 50 bulbs. Planted way too late in December. In the North edge of my woods, where the wild ferns flourish. Slope, never soggy.
Second planting about 100 bulbs doing fine too.
Third planting, bulbs from Holland via Brecks, looking healthy but no flowers yet, and this is high season. My guess is they are from seeds and are just not ready to flower yet. Anyway, the suppliers are sending me a free replacement pack since they promised blooms.
I have also ordered another 200. Costing about $50 a hundred incuding shipping. Catch the special offers.
I used their 5,10,5 fertiser. Will buy more in bulk locally.
I really want thousands of Bluebells, so this year I am messing with seeds. Too early to say anything.
I saw English Bluebells at Kew Gardens in London. Wow. That is what I want in my woods, like they have them under trees.
I am doing 5x5 patches of 25, about 4 inches between bulbs

    Bookmark   April 30, 2007 at 4:35PM
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Interim report on English Bluebells from Seed.
Here we are a month later and to my delight the seeds I tried germinating are doing great, so far over 70% germination in a sample of about 300 seeds, and every sign that more of them will germinate. I just followed the instructions on the packet from Alchemy Works Seeds and Herbs, and I am pulling them out and planting in little pots just as soon as they sprout. They are tiny seeds, hard as pepper corns and much smaller.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 6:48PM
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Please could you tell me at what depth English bluebells should be planted?



    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 9:57PM
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ponderosa_alpenglow(6 (Pine Mountain, CA))

Hello! First post. I read that English Bluebells are deer resistant. Are they also resistant to critters that might dig out my bulbs and eat them? Should I put some kind of netting around them?

^^ Are they even true English Bluebells?

Thank you!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 11:46PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Ponderosa - your photo shows Spanish bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, not English bluebells, H non-scripta.

True English bluebells get nibbled off by roe deer in my wood, so no, I would not say they are deer resistant. The bulbs get dug out by badgers looking for food, but as afar as I can tell the badgers don't eat them.

Maybe US deer have different tastes. And I don't think you have the same species of badger (Meles meles).

The link explains the differences and the illustration shows Spanish bluebells.

Here is a link that might be useful: Differences between English and Spanish bluebells

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 3:25AM
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ponderosa_alpenglow(6 (Pine Mountain, CA))


    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 10:48AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Spanish bluebells are an invasive pest in my garden. I have been digging them out for a decade and still they persist. They get into the base/roots of shrubs and rob them of water and fertilizer and look awful too. I never planted them. When we removed sod and created beds they popped up....

    Bookmark   April 25, 2012 at 1:37PM
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ponderosa_alpenglow(6 (Pine Mountain, CA))

See, I ordered English bluebells and got Spanish. A little upset about that.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 11:52AM
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