There are a few woods around Grantham where you can go and see wild bluebells. I saw a few plants flowering as early as the end of March when we had the week or two of glorious weather, but the majority are looking beautiful now in May.
Belvoir Woods, accessed by footpath from Stathern, a village several miles to the west of Grantham, is a good location to see carpets of bluebells within the woods – this is where the photographs on this page were taken. The map below shows where within the woods the largest abundances can be found.
Belton House, the National Trust property to the north-east of Grantham also has them in their woodland beside the river. You need to pay entry to get into the house and gardens unless you are a National Trust member (but, it goes without saying, it’s well worth it!)
This Sunday, the 20th of May, Harlaxton College will open its woods to the public to see the bluebells there. The college is based at the large manor just outside Harlaxton, visible on the left of the A607 as you leave Grantham heading west. The college is an outpost of the American University of Evansville. Access is through the village and the woods are open between 1pm and 3pm.
For other locations of bluebell woods, why not check out the National Trust’s Bluebell Map here.
For more info on the difference between native and Spanish bluebells, have a look at my recent post here.
Native bluebells are almost synonymous with English springtime, there is little more distinctive and evocative than the haze of blue they spread across a woodland floor. However the native English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), is not the only bluebell we have. The Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) was introduced as a garden flower and can produce fertile hybrids with the natives – indeed the true Spanish bluebell is relatively rarely encountered but many hybrid Spanish bluebells occur especially in and close to gardens. Below is a brief illustrative guide to help you tell the difference.
1. Look at the leaves
Native bluebells have relatively thin leaves, around 1-1.5cm wide. Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells tend to have much thicker leaves, around 3cm wide. The leaves of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell often have a fleshier feel to them.
2. Look at the flowers
Native bluebells are a distinctive deep-blue in colour, whereas Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells are often lighter, more pale blue or pink. Look also at the shape of the flowers, the native bluebell flowers curl back at the petal tips whilst those of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebells are splayed. If you get down close, look at the colour of the anthers; these are cream in natives and tend to be a pale-blue colour in the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish, although they can be cream coloured in white or pink flowers.
3. Look at the architecture
Native bluebells have the flowers concentrated on just one side of the stem, giving them the distinctive nodding, drooping look. Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell flowers are on all sides of the flower spike, giving the flower a much more upright appearance.
4. Sniff the flowers!
You should be able to pick up a sweet aroma from the flowers of the native bluebell whilst those of the Spanish and hybrid-Spanish bluebell are generally scentless.
5. Still unsure?
The two species hybridise, and can back-hybridise to create plants more like one of the two true species at either end than the ‘standard’ hybrid. This means there can be a wide variation in characteristics making a confident ID difficult at times – however distinguishing the native from non-native is usually fairly straightforward using the characteristics above. Hybridisation with native bluebells is one of the most significant threats that the Spanish bluebells pose to the natives.
I put together a crib which shows the key characteristics of the typical English bluebells below – hopefully this will provide an useful visual aid! However the detail provided in this blog by Cumbria Botany is perhaps the most comprehensive illustrations of the two species and the hybrids in between. The BSBI crib is also valuable, but the text and terminology doesn”t make it very accessible to a beginner!
Wild garlic or Ramsons (Allium ursinum) is a wild member of the lily family which you can generally detect from about 20 paces as the scent of garlic fills the air, especially in parts of the country where it can cover the woodland floor. The damper river valleys and hillsides in Yorkshire and Lancashire can have huge swathes and you can even find it growing along footpaths beside arable fields.
It is less frequent around Grantham and tends to be more restricted to typical woodland floor habitat – it can be found in Belvoir Woods to the west and there are some good colonies beneath the trees at Belton House.
At the moment, the leaves are full and fresh and the buds are just beginning to form – in a few weeks the white star-like flowers will appear too.
The garlic is not just restricted to the scent either – it can be used in cooking where it adds a mild garlicey flavour, more subtle than your average cloves. The leaves can be wilted down and used, or the bulbs can be chopped and cooked in a similar way as you might use normal garlic or spring onion bulbs. But although it is legal to take the leaves of wild garlic, it is illegal to uproot the plant (as you would have to do to get to the bulbs) without the landowners permission.
If you do find a good source of wild garlic, a delicious recipe which I found on another blog is a recipe for pesto. This uses nettle leaves as a base but I have made it using wild garlic leaves instead.
I have also cooked the leaves as part of a risotto – if you chop them down and stir them in, they make a wonderful accompaniment with asparagus tips. This recipe on the Guardian website would make a good base!
It should be fairly easy to grow in your own garden too, if you have a good shady corner. The seeds can be bought from a range of places; the Naturescape wildflower farm at Langar is a good local option if you would like to establish your own colony.