Bluebells guide: when do they flower, how to identify and best bluebell walks in the UK

One of the most welcoming signs of spring, make the most of the bluebell season this with our bluebells guide – learn when bluebells flower, how to tell the difference between English and Spanish bluebells and the best places to see.

Bluebells in woodland

Strongly associated with our ancient woodlands, Britain’s stunning spring flower the bluebell has bloomed, so if you can do so safely, this time of year is a lovely time to take a woodland bluebell walk – ensuring you continue to follow the latest government coronavirus social distancing and travel guidance. 

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When do bluebells flower? Find out with our expert bluebell guide, which explains how to identify this delicate native flower, Britain’s best bluebell walks, plus tips on how to grow your own.

When do bluebells flower?

Bluebells flower in April and May and in the UK and there are two types of bluebell which grow wild. These include the native bluebell, which is also known as the English or British bluebell, (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), which can now be found across much of Britain.

Bluebells in woodland
Bluebells carpet a woodland floor in Hampshire (Getty)

The Spanish variety grows and faster than our native bluebell and is one of the major threats to our native species with cross breeding between the two a potential risk. Both varieties however attract butterflies, bees and insects which use the plants for nectar.

The UK is home to over half of the world’s population of bluebells.

Photo Taken In Germany, Oldenburg

How to identify bluebells – what is the difference between English bluebells and Spanish bluebells

Native bluebell

bluebell
Close-up of a Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in King’s Wood, a large area of ancient coppice woodland near Ashford in Kent/Credit: Getty
  • Flower petals a deep purple
  • The spike of the flower droops to one side
  • Pollen has no colour
  • Flower petals curved and in a tube
  • A pungent scent of perfume

Spanish bluebell

Spanish bluebell
Spanish Bluebells growing in England/Credit: Getty Images
  • Pale coloured petals in a light blue but can also white or pink
  • Flower petals are erect and spiked
  • Pollen has a blue or green colour
  • No scent

Do bluebells come back every year?

As a perennial plant, bluebells flower every year. Bluebell colonies take between 5-7 years so develop and can take some time to recover if damaged. It is very important to avoid trampling bluebells in bloom to protect the delicate flower and allow the colony to spread naturally. The native bluebell is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Wild garlic guide: where to find, how to cook it and recipe ideas

Late spring is the perfect times to go foraging for this versatile and pungent plant, which can be whipped up into a delicious soup or pesto.

See our expert guide on where to find it and forage responsibly, how to cook it and tasty wild garlic recipe ideas

Wild garlic growing wild

How long does the bluebell season last?

Depending on the weather, the bluebell season can last a couple of weeks, generally appearing first in the South where it tends to be warmer before sweeping across the country.

Bluebells on hillside
A fantastic display of Bluebells on Cam Peak near Dursley, Gloucestershire (Getty)

Where are the best places to see bluebells?

Traditionally a woodland flower, bluebells tend to grow on woodland floors, although as new colonies develop you may also see them in the fields, along hedgerows, parkland or even along road verges.

How to identify spring blossom

As light flows slowly into our woodlands and hedgerows, once-bare branches begin to bloom. The brief blossoming of rowan, wild cherry and hawthorn is a magical spectacle, wreathed in ancient folklore.

Our guide on how to identify spring blossom found in the UK and best places to spot blossom

 

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Britain’s best bluebell walks

Here is a selection of the most beautiful bluebell woods and walks in the UK for inspiration to help you plan future walks when the government lockdown rules have been lifted and it is safe to do so.

Bluebell woods
Walk among the bluebells this spring/Credit: Getty
1

Urquhart Bay, Great Glen

Bluebell woods
Explore the wet woodlands of Urquhart Bay, Great Glen/Credit: Woodland Trust

This ancient wet woodland is close to Loch Ness and offers a unique bluebell experience, as the flowers have sprung amongst the ruins of a 16th century fortress. Also, see stunning wildlife and pay a visit to Urquhart Bay, which is easily accessible.

2

Grizedale Forest, Lake District

Aerial shot of a forest
A woodland walk in the heart of the Lake District/Credit: Visit Cumbria

This woodland walk is nestled in the heart of the Lake District between Lakes Windemere and Coniston. This idyllic forest is painted in the beautiful purple hue of bluebells at this time of year.

Discover bluebells on a walk through Grizedale Forest.

3

Coed Tregib, Carmarthenshire

Woodlands
Wander among oak and ash trees in Coed Tregib, Camarthenshire/Credit:Woodland Trust

Oak and Ash trees spread across miles of this ancient woodland creating a thick, tangled canopy for bluebells come April. While this might seem like a scene out of middle-earth, Coed Tregib is near the welcoming little town of Llandeilo with its two train stations and good road access.

Britain’s best spring walks

The arrival of the spring equinox signals the start of longer, warmer days and the countryside is awash with colour and wildlife.

A perfect season for hiking, here is our guide on the best spring walks in Britain

River Bradford, Derbyshire

4

Burroughs Wood, near Leicester

Bluebell woods
For accessible bluebell walks visit Burroughs Wood, near Leicester/Credit: Woodland Trust

Burroughs Wood is a brilliantly accessible site in the heart of England. Less than an hour’s drive from Birmingham, it welcomes visitors with wide pathways perfectly suitable for buggies and wheelchairs that snake through a combination of ancient and modern woodland.

5

Killerton Estate, Devon

Wild garlic in woodlands
A haven for wildlife, take a walk in Killerton Estate to enjoy a carpet of bluebells/Credit: Carys Matthews

Conifers make up much of this 300-hectare woodland that has become a haven for butterflies, birds and bluebells alike. Situated in the grounds of the Killerton Estate, which has good access via the M5, this woodland is one of the largest in mid Devon and is perfect for a springtime saunter.

Enjoy a day out at Killerton Estate in Devon

6

Arlington Farm, East Sussex

These eight east Sussex trails are all around a mile long and link together across three farms. The Beatons Wood trail is suitable for wheelchair users, and all the paths are signposted so you know what springtime delights you are looking at. From here you can hop next door to Parkwood Farm where you can see pigs, sheep and goats and even watch the dairy herd being milked. bluebellwalk.co.uk

7

Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

Castle
The Elizabethan tower, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, 1930, designed by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, Kent, England/Credit: Getty

Could there be anything better than a scenic bluebell flooded walk? Improve perfection on a guided 4mile walk through Sissinghurst Castle followed by cream teas. All you have to do is decide which to put on first, cream or jam? nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle-garden

8

Muncaster Castle and Gardens, Cumbria

Dubbed by Ruskin as ‘The gateway to paradise’, the woodland above the castle is washed in sunlight dappled blue beauties. With views over to the only coastal village in the Lake District, Muncaster’s 18th century gardens also boast an impressively large Rhododendron and exotic tree collection. muncaster.co.uk/gardens

Munster House and Gardens
Muncaster Castle gardens with azaleas (Rhododendrons), Cumbria/Credit: Getty Images
9

Hartland Abbey and Gardens, North Devon

As the setting of the BBCs Sense and Sensibility in 2007, walking in the grounds it is easy to be transported to a lost era. The gardens themselves were almost forgotten over the First World War, and the Summerhouse pathway, which reopened in 2010, had been lying hidden since 1945. hartlandabbey.co.uk

Wildflowers
Colourful display of Pink Asters and Agapanthus with Mahonia in the Background in the Garden at Hartland Abbey, Devon, (Getty)
10

Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire

Rosebery Topping

Quilted with banks of bluebells, sorrel and stitchwort, Yorkshire’s Matterhorn in the North York Moors National Park is a spring masterpiece.

See the Roseberry Topping walking route

Calke Park

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
Calke Abbey, Derbyshire ©Oliver Mills

Fall under a fairy’s spell in bluebell woodland on this majestic estate in the Peak District.

See Calke Park walking route and map.


How to grow bluebells

Wild native bluebells can commonly be found growing in woodlands and grasslands, however with a little effort you can grow your own.  Successful growing will depend on your soil as British bluebells thrive best in slightly acidic and moist soil, which drains well. The best time to plant is in autumn, but green bulbs can also be planted in spring. Being a woodland flower, bluebells prefer shady so around a tree or in a shady patch of the garden is the best place to plant.

Gardener tending to bluebells
Gardener tending to bluebells (Getty)

Prep your soil

Prior to planting bulbs, prepare your soil by adding manure or compost to enrich the soil quality.

Spring planting

Use green bulbs in spring and plant them at a depth of around 10cm, spacing them 10cm apart.

Autumn planting 

Use dry bulbs and plant twice the depth of the bulb. Ideally, at least 14cm in depth, leaving a similar space between bulbs. If you can plant deeper it is worth the effort.

How long do bluebells take to flower?

Bluebells may take a couple of years to flower (colonies take between 5-7 years to develop) but they are a self-sowing plant so with a bit of luck, over time will naturally populate your garden.

Do bluebells like sun or shade?

Bluebells will grow in direct sunshine, but tend to prefer a bit of shade which is why they often carpet woodland floors.

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When to cut bluebells back?

Leaving bluebells to die back naturally will help them return stronger the following year.