Tuesday 21 November 2017

Time to enjoy those wild bluebells in bloom

The hybrid Spanish bluebells are decorative and grow well in the garden
The hybrid Spanish bluebells are decorative and grow well in the garden

Gerry Daly

When you see bluebells growing in the countryside, there are generally swathes of them. It is a native flower, growing wild in woodland under hazel or oak, both trees that do not cast too heavy a shade. Bluebells are grown in gardens too, where they can cause mixed feelings.

The wild bluebell is a very graceful flower, arching over at the tip of the flower stem with bell-shaped flowers dangling on short fine stalks.

Usually the flowers hang to one side of the stem and the tips of the petals are rolled back more than the Spanish bluebell that is widely grown in gardens.

The Spanish bluebell is a different species, closely related, but much bigger than the wild bluebell. It has broader leaves, twice as broad at least and straight flower stems and bigger, more open, bell flowers hanging on shorter stalks, all around the stem. Usually it is of a lighter blue colour than the wild species.

In recent times, the Spanish bluebell of gardens has been hybridising with the native kind, the pollen being carried from garden flowers to pollinate the wild species. This mostly happens when the two species are grown in the same garden, but bees can fly a few kilometres.

The hybrid forms exhibit characteristics intermediate between the two species to a greater or lesser degree as back-crosses are made. The hybrids are decorative and grow well but it seems a pity if the distinctive charm of the native species were to be greatly diluted.

And some gardeners hate the sight of either kind, at least in the garden. Both species are prolific producers of seeds that find their way around gardens on footwear, tools and in compost. The seeds germinate readily and produce grassy leaves, the bulbs growing in size until big enough to flower.

Quite often the self-sown bluebell plants are not noticed until they flower, sometimes in the middle of a herbaceous perennial flower, or in a rock garden plant, from where the bluebell bulb is next to impossible to root out. And then it begins to form a clump.

To stop self-sowing, remove the seed pods when still green, that is, if there are not large numbers of bluebells.

How do I sow a new lawn?

Q I am in the process of preparing the ground for seeding, part of which includes drawing in topsoil to raise the level by 10cm or so. Should I add sand to the soil prior to seeding? Should I roll the topsoil prior to seeding to avoid depressions due to foot traffic when seeding? What fertiliser, if any, should I add? J Kelleher, Cork

A If there is already a good 20cm or so of topsoil, there is no need to bring in any more, unless you just wish to alter the levels. There is no need to mix sand into good topsoil and heavy clay topsoil should not be used anyway. The new soil, if used, and the existing soil if not, should be firmed evenly by trampling so that the soil surface does not settle unevenly after sowing. Trample on a dry day and rake until firm and even surfaced. Rolling is not as effective as trampling with boots. If the area is too large to trample, it can be rolled, or evened and firmed with a powered stone rake. Apply 50-100g per sqm of general fertiliser and give a final rake-over before sowing.

Send your questions to gerrydaly@independent.ie. Questions can only be answered on this page.

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