Bluebells are also one of Britain’s more easily identified wildflowers, but can you tell the subtle difference between the native bluebell and the Spanish bluebell?
One of the pleasures of bluebells is their individual beauty: graceful, arching stems bearing delicate bells of deep colour. But when those single splashes of blue multiply to form dreamy pools of thousands of plants, fresh pleasures await. The colour and scent intensify and there is a delicious, extravagant sense of abundance after the barren winter months.
Why not enjoy a carpet of blue in woodlands, forests or your local park this bluebell season by taking inspiration from our pick of the best bluebell walks in the UK.
Our expert bluebell guide also explains how to identify this delicate native flower and has handy advice 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.
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.
More related content:
- Elderflower guide: where to find it, how to identify and recipe ideas
- British seasonal wildflowers guide: how to identify, when to see and where to find them
- Snowdrops guide: best snowdrop walks in the UK and how to grow
How to identify bluebells – what is the difference between English bluebells and Spanish bluebells?
- 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
- 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.
First and most importantly, if you love bluebells and want to preserve them, try and keep clear of them. Where bluebells are growing, stick to official trails, and try to walk single file wherever the plants fringe a narrow pathway.
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.
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 of Britain, where it tends to be warmer before sweeping across the country to finish the season in Scotland and the north.
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.
Britain’s best bluebell walks
This spring, what better place to start than one of the most thrilling things you can do in the British countryside: walk among bluebells.
Some time in the next few weeks – usually around mid-April – the first bright bluebells will unfurl in our woodlands, creating one of the great spring spectacles. If you’re like to find a bluebell walk near you, here is a selection of the most beautiful bluebell woods and walks in the UK for inspiration.
Loughrigg Fell, Cumbria
You don’t have to climb high in the Lake District to get the finest fell views – a short stroll through the heart of the national park offers rewards aplenty.
Wanstead Park, London
Embrace spring and enjoy native bluebells, baby wildfowl and lakeside walks in the romantic remains of an 18th-century garden within Epping Forest.
Rode Hall and Gardens, Cheshire
Wander through an enchanting bluebell woodland in the grounds of an old Georgian Hall.
Follow your nose on this sensory walk through sun-dappled holloways, fields and woodland brimming with life.
Urquhart Bay, Great Glen
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.
Grizedale Forest, Lake District
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.
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.
Burroughs Wood, near Leicester
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.
Killerton Estate, Devon
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.
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent
Could there be anything better than a scenic bluebell flooded walk? Improve perfection on a 4 mile walk through Sissinghurst Castle followed by a cream tea or cake. nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle-garden
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
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
Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire
Quilted with banks of bluebells, sorrel and stitchwort, Yorkshire’s Matterhorn in the North York Moors National Park is a spring masterpiece.
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.
Prep your soil
Prior to planting bulbs, prepare your soil by adding manure or compost to enrich the soil quality.
Use green bulbs in spring and plant them at a depth of around 10cm, spacing them 10cm apart.
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.
When to cut bluebells back?
Leaving bluebells to die back naturally will help them return stronger the following year.