The first time I visited Scotland was at exactly the right time to see the bluebells bloom. This was in woodland near Gatehouse of Fleet in the south west. Like many others, I was enchanted by this natural phenomenon.
It is Peak Bluebell here this week. We headed down to see the blue glory at Te Popo Gardens in central Taranaki. While we grow bluebells in relatively large numbers ourselves, we have yet to attain the magnificent expanse they manage in their conditions.
At Te Popo, there are many deciduous trees which creates a woodland cycle. When the leaves fall, they are left to lie. The bare trees let in winter light. It is at the turning of the season when the fresh growth is just starting on the trees that the bluebells flower, creating great swathes of blue carpet beneath. As the trees take on their full summer leafy garb, light conditions will decrease below which suppresses competing weed and grass growth.
In our garden at Tikorangi, our tree cover is such a mix of evergreen and deciduous that our woodland areas tend to be a little dark for most bulbs. When it gets too dark, the bulbs don’t set flower buds and gradually die out. We have to go for the margins and find the balance between necessary light levels and the grass growth that comes as a result. We are less blue carpet and more drifting carpet runner, if you see what I mean.
Bluebells are strong growing bulbs, also given to seeding down, so are better suited to a more natural style of gardening rather than intensively maintained borders. Lorri Ellis at Te Popo uses them extensively with hellebores to good effect. We have both found that spreading them in areas which can then be more or less left to their own devices is most effective. It is the massed, natural look that works.
There is ongoing angst in Britain over the incursions of the stronger growing Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, dominating and hybridising with their native bluebell H. non scripta. We spent some time discussing the difference. Lorri has a large patch that she understands is the true English bluebell and she has kept it isolated from the rest which are probably mostly Spanish, or Spanglish as I call the hybrids between the two – technically H. x massartiana.
One way you can tell what you have, apparently, is by pollen colour. The English ones always have creamy pollen whereas the Spanish ones often have blue pollen. I had noticed the latter. After some random sampling and Mark’s memories of what he refers to as “Grandma’s bluebells” (technically his great grandmother, I think), we came to the conclusion that it is likely that most of what we have here are hybrids. We are none the wiser as to whether Grandma started with English or Spanish ones, but we think that the lilac pink and white ones that were brought in to add variety are all of Spanish origin.
Te Popo Gardens are located near Stratford and will be open during the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular from October 31 to November 9
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.